Book Review: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes captured my attention from start to finish. Going into it, I was fascinated by the idea of understanding the convergence of minds that led to the creation of one of history’s most powerful and controversial weapons. And of course, the recent buzz about the Oppenheimer movie contributed to this interest as well.

Rhodes doesn’t just delve into the technicalities of the bomb’s construction, which, on its own, would have been captivating. He masterfully presents the lives, backgrounds, and motivations of the characters involved.

A large part of the first third or so of the book digs into nuclear chemistry and the intense research going on to figure out these chain reactions. It was just absolutely fascinating.

What I found particularly interesting were the insights into the parallel efforts in Japan and Germany. It provided a unique view of the global race that was underway, further elevating the stakes and suspense of the story.

Throughout the book, there was this compelling juxtaposition: the brilliance of the minds at work against the backdrop of the impending devastation their creation would bring. It’s a testament to Rhodes’s storytelling that he managed to weave these narratives seamlessly.

“The Making of the Atomic Bomb” was a stellar read, and it easily gets a 5 out of 5 from me. For anyone curious about the people and the drama behind the science, this is a must-read.

Book Review: The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

At first glance, this book seems to be a biography of Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist and one of the pioneers of CRISPR research.

While there is some focus on her upbringing and the things that may have driven her to become a fantastic scientist, the book is really about the wide range of characters who helped discover CRISPR DNA sequences and their potential applications in modern medicine.

I’ve heard CRISPR and CRISPR-based technology mentioned in various things I’ve read and how it is something that could potentially revolutionize medicine. But that’s really all I know about it.

This book digs into how Jennifer and her team of researchers discovered the CRISPR process — essentially duplicating the way that bacteria has fought off viruses for eons — and how it could ultimately be used for various therapies, treatments and even diagnoses.

The book briefly mentions its use in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for COVID-19 as well as some of the more controversial and ethically questionable uses — editing the genes of a fetus, for example, to choose certain traits (which will then be passed down to its own children).

This was an enjoyable and informative read and it covered all sorts of things from the science of CRISPR, legal issues related to patents, and the use cases for CRISPR based technologies today.

The final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

STS-134 NASA Tweetup

STS-134 NASA Tweetup and the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

On April 28th and April 29th, 2011, I was fortunate enough to participate in the NASA Tweetup for STS-134. It was to be the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the second to last mission in the Space Shuttle program. I traveled to the Space Coast from San Francisco and spent three fantastic days with fellow Twitter users and enthusiastic space geeks at Kennedy Space Center. Things didn’t always go as planned (you’ll see), but it was an experience that I’ll cherish and never forget. Godspeed, Endeavour.

Continue reading “The final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour”

Practicing my Space Shuttle landing skills

I figured since I’m heading to Cape Canaveral and all, I should start brushing up on my shuttle landing skills. You never know if a crew member suddenly comes down with an illness and they’ll need to replace them with someone from the NASA Tweetup. Yeah… sure. πŸ˜‰

You can check out the above space shuttle simulator on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod by downloading F-SIM Space Shuttle from the App Store.

Solar death ray

This is pretty fantastic! Eric Jacqmain built a “solar death ray” using 5,800 mirrors glued to a satellite dish.

The R5800 is my latest and greatest solar creation. Made from an ordinary fiberglass satellite dish, it is covered in about 5800 3/8″ (~1cm) mirror tiles. When properly aligned, it can generate a spot the size of a dime with an intensity of 5000 suns! This amount of power is more than enough to melt steel, vaporize aluminum, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant. It stands at 5’9″ and is 42″ across.

Seeing kids and young adults do science experiments and create things like this gives me hope for our future!

[via @papermodelplane on Twitter]

Earthquakes in 2010 – A final update

Back in March of 2010, I wrote a post looking at the frequency of earthquakes occurring around the world and examined whether or not there were more earthquakes occuring than normal. Specifically, I chose to look at earthquakes between M6.0 and M6.9, as they are sufficiently large enough to be detected by seismometers around the world and they seem to be well documented in recent history.

So, what were the final numbers for 2010? Using the global earthquake search tool on the USGS website, we can see that there were 151 M6.0 – M6.9 earthquakes detected last year.

FILE CREATED: Mon Jan 3 19:59:37 2011
Global Search Earthquakes = 151
Catalog Used: PDE
Date Range: 2010/01/01 to 2010/12/31
Magnitude Range: 6.0 – 6.9
Data Selection: Historical & Preliminary Data

According to recent USGS data, an average of ~134 earthquakes happen in this range every year. Yes, we had 151, but does that mean it’s time to freak out?


It falls well within what we would expect. In fact, there were more earthquakes within this magnitude range in 2007 (178) and 2008 (178)! What? Crazy!

A few more data points:
M7.0 – M7.9 eq’s in 2010: 21 (avg: ~17)
M8.0 – M8.9 eq’s in 2010: 1 (avg: ~1)

Here’s a handy table from the USGS [via]:


So, to sum things up, the world is not ending, despite what crazy folks say, earthquakes are not increasing, and there’s probably a number of other things more important to worry about.

Cheers and happy new year!

Get to know a geologist

The annual American Geophysical Union conference is in town this week and I’ve been fielding a bunch of questions about the strange creatures (known as earth scientists) that are inhabiting downtown San Francisco.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Uncyclopedia nails the description of a geologist.

Geologists are ‘scientists’ with unnatural obsessions with beer and rocks. Often too intelligent to do monotonous sciences like biology, chemistry, or physics, geologists devote their time to mud-worrying, volcano poking, fault finding, bouldering, dust-collecting, and high-risk colouring. One of the main difficulties in communicating with geologists is their belief that a million years is a short amount of time and their heads are harder than rocks. Consequently, such abstract concepts as “Tuesday Morning” and Lunchtime are completely beyond their comprehension.

The section on alcohol consumption is pretty amusing (and somewhat apt) as well.

If you ever encounter a geologist who is sober after 6pm, this person is an imposter: possibly an alien; probably a geophysicist or engineer, marine geographer or hydrologist etc. Alcoholism is an acceptable, even socially beneficial, disease for an active geologist.

The whole article is a fun read though, especially if you are or know any geologists.