Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold

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“A lovely, fascinating book, which brings science to life.” —Alan Lightman

Combining science, history, and adventure, Tom Shachtman “holds the reader’s attention with the skill of a novelist” as he chronicles the story of humans’ four-centuries-long quest to master the secrets of cold (Scientific American).
 
“A disarming portrait of an exquisite, ferocious, world-ending extreme,” Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold demonstrates how temperature science produced astonishing scientific insights and applications that have revolutionized civilization (Kirkus Reviews). It also illustrates how scientific advancement, fueled by fortuitous discoveries and the efforts of determined individuals, has allowed people to adapt to—and change—the environments in which they live and work, shaping man’s very understanding of, and relationship, with the world.
 
This “truly wonderful book” was adapted into an acclaimed documentary underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, directed by British Emmy Award winner David Dugan, and aired on the BBC and PBS’s Nova in 2008 (Library Journal).
 
“An absorbing account to chill out with.” —Booklist
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About the author

Tom Shachtman has written twenty-eight nonfiction books, including the acclaimed Around the Block and Skyscraper Dreams. He has also written documentary films and tapes, which have won many awards. Shachtman lives with his wife in New York City.
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Additional Information

Publisher
HMH
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Published on
Dec 12, 2000
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780547525952
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Earth Sciences / Meteorology & Climatology
Science / History
Science / Mechanics / Thermodynamics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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How scientists used transformative new technologies to understand the complexities of weather and the atmosphere, told through the intertwined careers of three key figures.

“The goal of meteorology is to portray everything atmospheric, everywhere, always,” declared John Bellamy and Harry Wexler in 1960, soon after the successful launch of TIROS 1, the first weather satellite. Throughout the twentieth century, meteorological researchers have had global ambitions, incorporating technological advances into their scientific study as they worked to link theory with practice. Wireless telegraphy, radio, aviation, nuclear tracers, rockets, digital computers, and Earth-orbiting satellites opened up entirely new research horizons for meteorologists. In this book, James Fleming charts the emergence of the interdisciplinary field of atmospheric science through the lives and careers of three key figures: Vilhelm Bjerknes (1862–1951), Carl-Gustaf Rossby (1898–1957), and Harry Wexler (1911–1962).

In the early twentieth century, Bjerknes worked to put meteorology on solid observational and theoretical foundations. His younger colleague, the innovative and influential Rossby, built the first graduate program in meteorology (at MIT), trained aviation cadets during World War II, and was a pioneer in numerical weather prediction and atmospheric chemistry. Wexler, one of Rossby's best students, became head of research at the U.S. Weather Bureau, where he developed new technologies from radar and rockets to computers and satellites, conducted research on the Antarctic ice sheet, and established carbon dioxide measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. He was also the first meteorologist to fly into a hurricane—an experience he chose never to repeat.

Fleming maps both the ambitions of an evolving field and the constraints that checked them—war, bureaucracy, economic downturns, and, most important, the ultimate realization (prompted by the formulation of chaos theory in the 1960s by Edward Lorenz) that perfectly accurate measurements and forecasts would never be possible.

During the course of this century, meteorology has become unified, physics-based, and highly computational. Calculating the Weather: Meteorology in the 20th Century explains this transformation by examining thevarious roles of computation throughout the history of meteorology, giving most attention to the period from World War I to the 1960s. The electronic digital computer, a product of World War II, led to great advances in empirical, theoretical, and practical meteorology. At the same time, the use of the computer led to the discovery of so-called"chaotic systems,"and to the recognition that there may well be fundamental limits to predicting the weather.
One of the very few books covering 20th century meteorology, this text is an excellent supplement to any course in general meteorology, forecasting, or history of science.

Key Features
* Provides a narrative account of the growth of meteorology in the 20th century
* Explains how forecasting the weather became a physics-based science
* Studies the impact of the computer on meteorology and thus provides an example of science transformed by the computer
* Describes three traditions in meteorology:
* The empirical tradition of gathering data and making inferences
* A theoretical tradition of explaining atmospheric motions by means of the laws of physics
* The practical tradition of predicting the weather
* Analyzes the increasing role of calculation within each of the traditions and explains how electronic digital computers made possible many connections between traditions
All macroscopic systems consist ultimately of atoms obeying the laws of quantum mechanics. That premise forms the basis for this comprehensive text, intended for a first upper-level course in statistical and thermal physics. Reif emphasizes that the combination of microscopic concepts with some statistical postulates leads readily to conclusions on a purely macroscopic level. The authors writing style and penchant for description energize interest in condensed matter physics as well as provide a conceptual grounding with information that is crystal clear and memorable.

Reif first introduces basic probability concepts and statistical methods used throughout all of physics. Statistical ideas are then applied to systems of particles in equilibrium to enhance an understanding of the basic notions of statistical mechanics, from which derive the purely macroscopic general statements of thermodynamics. Next, he turns to the more complicated equilibrium situations, such as phase transformations and quantum gases, before discussing nonequilibrium situations in which he treats transport theory and dilute gases at varying levels of sophistication. In the last chapter, he addresses some general questions involving irreversible processes and fluctuations.

A large amount of material is presented to facilitate students later access to more advanced works, to allow those with higher levels of curiosity to read beyond the minimum given on a topic, and to enhance understanding by presenting several ways of looking at a particular question. Formatting within the text either signals material that instructors can assign at their own discretion or highlights important results for easy reference to them. Additionally, by solving many of the 230 problems contained in the text, students activate and embed their knowledge of the subject matter.
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