When scientists study ants, they often find themselves thinking about emergent properties as they discover the sum of the colony adds up to so much more than the individual workers. Dr. Curt Stager has reversed the lens to look at how we humans are made up of atoms, where those atoms come from, where they go, and how they are connected to other processes. He has woven his findings into a new popular-science book: Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe.
All matter is made up of atoms, but Dr. Stager has chosen to use the human body as his point of reference. This is a simple, yet effective, way to provide both relatability and scale to general readers. This is not a medical treatise, however, even though it features humans. Instead it is more like a nature hike using our basic knowledge of ourselves as a trail marker for exploring the world of elements.
The “hike” is a far ranging one, covering topics from why the sky is blue to how the nitrogen atoms from salmon end up in spruce trees in the Pacific Northwest. The text is roughly organized by the elements you would expect: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, etc. To its credit, it covers recent scientific literature, especially in the field of ecology.
Be sure to read to the end of the book. Dr. Stager has included an epilogue about Albert Einstein that contains gems about the life of the man that are sure to fascinate science historians. As some of you may know, Einstein not only was prominent in the field of physics, but also made huge contributions to chemistry, such as by explaining Brownian motion is due to the movement of atoms and molecules and thus providing evidence of their existence. In this section Stager also gives voice to his ideas about what life is and how emergent properties come into play.
Your Atomic Self would be appropriate for anyone interested in popular science, and particularly to students of chemistry and ecology. Although not about ants per se, if you are looking for in depth information about how common elements are used and recycled, or want to think more about emergence, then this is the book for you.
Dr. Curt Stager also hosts Natural Selections at North Country Public Radio, for example like this episode about wood ant mounds.
See an excerpt from the book at Huffington Post
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (October 14, 2014)
Disclosures: The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.