In a wonderful synthesis of science, history, and imagination, Gino Segre, an internationally renowned theoretical physicist, embarks on a wide-ranging exploration of how the fundamental scientific concept of temperature is bound up with the very essence of both life and matter. Why is the internal temperature of most mammals fixed near 98.6 degrees How do geologists use temperature to track the history of our planet Why is the quest for absolute zero and its quantum mechanical significance the key to understanding superconductivity And what can we learn from neutrinos, the subatomic "messages from the sun" that may hold the key to understanding the birth -- and death -- of our solar system In answering these and hundreds of other temperature-sensitive questions, Segre presents an uncanny view of the world around us.
Segre , a theoretical physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, begins this far-ranging survey of the history of science by explaining how living organisms maintain stable temperatures and showing how adaptations to hot or cold habitats influenced animal evolution. Subsequent chapters cover a wide range of topics such as the development of heat-measuring technologies; influences of temperature on earth's climate, including speculations on "snowball" and "slushball" earth scenarios and the greenhouse effect; survival mechanisms of thermophiles and psychrophiles (bacteria that tolerate extremely high and extremely low temperatures, respectively); and the role of neutrinos, tiny particles produced in the core of the sun, in explaining solar dynamics. Segre observes that the history of human civilization can be read as a story of the "ever-hotter fires humans made as they moved from hunter-gatherers to villagers to toolmakers," while the formation of the universe can be seen as a vast cooling, from one hundred billion degrees at one hundredth of a second after the big bang to the cooler temperatures at which neutrons and protons could bind together (one billion degrees) and some 300,000 years later hydrogen and helium atoms could form (3,000 degrees). While some of Segre 's material will be a challenge to readers without knowledge of college-level physics, he brings humor and passion to his subject and excels in showing its relevance to both current policy and future research. Agents: John Brockmann and Katinka Matson. (July 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.