Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos

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The cells in our bodies consist of molecules, made up of the same carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms found in air and rocks. But molecules, such as water and sugar, are not alive. So how do our cells—assemblies of otherwise “dead” molecules—come to life, and together constitute a living being?

In Life’s Ratchet, physicist Peter M. Hoffmann locates the answer to this age-old question at the nanoscale. The complex molecules of our cells can rightfully be called “molecular machines,” or “nanobots”; these machines, unlike any other, work autonomously to create order out of chaos. Tiny electrical motors turn electrical voltage into motion, tiny factories custom-build other molecular machines, and mechanical machines twist, untwist, separate and package strands of DNA. The cell is like a city—an unfathomable, complex collection of molecular worker bees working together to create something greater than themselves.

Life, Hoffman argues, emerges from the random motions of atoms filtered through the sophisticated structures of our evolved machinery. We are essentially giant assemblies of interacting nanoscale machines; machines more amazing than can be found in any science fiction novel. Incredibly, the molecular machines in our cells function without a mysterious “life force,” nor do they violate any natural laws. Scientists can now prove that life is not supernatural, and that it can be fully understood in the context of science.

Part history, part cutting-edge science, part philosophy, Life’s Ratchet takes us from ancient Greece to the laboratories of modern nanotechnology to tell the story of our quest for the machinery of life.
 
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About the author

Peter M. Hoffmann is a Professor of Physics and Materials Science at Wayne State University in Michigan, and the Founder and Director of the university's Biomedical Physics program. Born and raised in Germany, Hoffmann studied Mathematics and Physics at the Technical University of Clausthal, Germany. In 1992, he came to the U.S., where he studied physics at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He completed an M.S. in Physics in the area of nanoscience, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. Hoffman is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, as well as the Richard Barber Faculty and Staff Excellence Award, the College of Science and Presidential Teaching Awards, and the Career Development Chair Award from Wayne State University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Basic Books
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Published on
Oct 30, 2012
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780465033362
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Biotechnology
Science / Chaotic Behavior in Systems
Science / Chemistry / Computational & Molecular Modeling
Science / Chemistry / Organic
Science / Chemistry / Physical & Theoretical
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / Biochemistry
Science / Life Sciences / Biology
Science / Life Sciences / Biophysics
Science / Life Sciences / Cell Biology
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Life Sciences / Microbiology
Science / Life Sciences / Molecular Biology
Science / Mechanics / Thermodynamics
Science / Physics / Atomic & Molecular
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Eligible for Family Library

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Quantitative Understanding of Biosystems: An Introduction to Biophysics focuses on the behavior and properties of microscopic structures that underlie living systems. It clearly describes the biological physics of macromolecules, subcellular structures, and whole cells, including interactions with light.

Providing broad coverage of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics, this color text features:

Mathematical and computational tools—graphing, calculus, simple differential equations, diagrammatic analysis, and visualization tools Randomness, variation, statistical mechanics, distributions, and spectra The biological micro- and nanoworld—structures, processes, and the physical laws Quantum effects—photosynthesis, UV damage, electron and energy transfer, and spectroscopic characterization of biological structures

Through its active learning approach, the text encourages practical comprehension of the behavior of biosystems, rather than knowledge of the latest research. The author includes graph- and diagram-centered physics and mathematics, simple software, frequent checks of understanding, and a repetition of important ideas at higher levels or from different points of view. After completing this book, students will gain significant computational and project experience and become competent at quantitatively characterizing biosystems.

CD-ROM Resource

The accompanying CD contains multimedia learning tools, such as video clips and animations, that illustrate intrinsically dynamic processes. For students inexperienced in the application of mathematics and physical principles to naturally occurring phenomena, this multimedia component emphasizes what is most obvious about biological systems: living things move. Students can also manipulate and re-program the included Excel graphs.

Quantitative Understanding of Biosystems: An Introduction to Biophysics focuses on the behavior and properties of microscopic structures that underlie living systems. It clearly describes the biological physics of macromolecules, subcellular structures, and whole cells, including interactions with light.

Providing broad coverage of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics, this color text features:

Mathematical and computational tools—graphing, calculus, simple differential equations, diagrammatic analysis, and visualization tools Randomness, variation, statistical mechanics, distributions, and spectra The biological micro- and nanoworld—structures, processes, and the physical laws Quantum effects—photosynthesis, UV damage, electron and energy transfer, and spectroscopic characterization of biological structures

Through its active learning approach, the text encourages practical comprehension of the behavior of biosystems, rather than knowledge of the latest research. The author includes graph- and diagram-centered physics and mathematics, simple software, frequent checks of understanding, and a repetition of important ideas at higher levels or from different points of view. After completing this book, students will gain significant computational and project experience and become competent at quantitatively characterizing biosystems.

CD-ROM Resource

The accompanying CD contains multimedia learning tools, such as video clips and animations, that illustrate intrinsically dynamic processes. For students inexperienced in the application of mathematics and physical principles to naturally occurring phenomena, this multimedia component emphasizes what is most obvious about biological systems: living things move. Students can also manipulate and re-program the included Excel graphs.

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