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See Inside July 2010

Recommended: Bulletproof Feathers: How Science Uses Nature's Secrets to Design Cutting-Edge Technology

Books and recommendations from Scientific American

Bulletproof Feathers: How Science Uses Nature’s Secrets to Design Cutting-Edge Technology
edited by Robert Allen. University of Chicago Press, 2010

Researchers are increasingly turning to nature for design inspiration. This book surveys examples from the field of biomimetics—from self-cleaning surfaces based on the lotus leaf to fishery echo sounders that aim to simulate dolphin sonar.

Excerpt
The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World without Ice Caps
by Peter D. Ward. Basic Books, 2010

Earth scientist Peter D. Ward of the University of Washington imagines how Earth and its inhabitants will change in the next 1,000 years as the ice caps melt and the seas rise. Here he describes northern California in the year 2135.

“The [Great Valley of California] had once been one of the richest agricultural areas on the planet. It had been divided roughly in half by the Sacramento River Delta and the low marshes west of Sacramento. Its northern half had been farmed for fruit, olives, nuts, cotton, and especially rice, while the southern valley was once the largest vegetable-producing area on the planet. Now the Great Valley was bisected by the long extension of San Francisco Bay, which stretched all the way to Sacramento. Salt water from that enormous extension of the sea had gradually worked its way into the many aquifers that had once been necessary for irrigation, and every year the sea encroached both north and south into the major rivers of the Valley. Now, despite the intense engineering efforts Californians had put forth, most of those aquifers contained salt. But even that would not have been so bad had the climate continued to allow snow to fall prodigiously on the Sierras. Because the precipitation now came entirely as rain, there was no snowpack to melt and provide spring runoff just in time for sowing and watering new crops, or give budding trees a good drink in the first spell of hot weather.

“That heat used to arrive in April, but now there was no winter here at all. In one respect it was a blessing—no longer did the characteristic and deadly early-morning fogs cause numerous fatal accidents on Interstate 5, the major north-south freeway through California, as drivers rear-ended others in the pea soup. There was no fog at all now, because the tropical temperatures of the Valley never rose to the dew point. But the lack of fog was of little importance to drivers, because there were none on the freeway except for truckers. Personal automobiles had been outlawed some decades before, in a vain effort to save some of the word’s oil. Yet goods still needed to be moved from place to place, and people needed to travel as well, thus swelling the freeways with buses and trucks.”

NONFICTION
Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality
by Jonathan Weiner. Ecco, 2010

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century
by Michael Hiltzik. Free Press, 2010

Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging,
and Mating

by Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig. Yale University Press, 2010

Drawing the Map of Life: Inside the Human Genome Project
by Victor K. McElheny. Basic Books, 2010

The Last Tortoise: A Tale of Extinction in Our Lifetime
by Craig B. Stanford. Harvard University Press, 2010

What’s Luck Got to Do with It?: The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler’s Illusion
by Joseph Mazur. Princeton University Press, 2010

A Little Book of Language
by David Crystal. Yale University Press, 2010

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