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My reviews
Carstein Reinhardt book review 4

Carsten Reinhardt, Shifting and Rearranging. Physical Methods and the Transformation of Modern Chemistry.
Science History Publications, Watson Publishing International, Sagamore Beach, MA, 2006, ix + 428 pp., ISBN 0-88135-354-X, $ 49.95.

Organic spectroscopy applies physical methods to determining the structure of the molecules organic chemists isolate, make and test. It came of age during the Golden Sixties. The twin engines to lift it to prominence were mass spectrometry (ms), which engineers developed in the nineteen-fifties for analyzing hydrocarbons present in oil; and nuclear magnetic resonance (nmr), discovered in the aftermath of World War II. Carsten Reinhardt, an historian from the University of Regensburg, Germany, has now chronicled the early times of organic spectroscopy.
Organic spectroscopy rose in a bleak landscape. Available instrumental techniques were indirect (dipolemetry, ultraviolet electronic spectra interpreted with the Woodward rules, infrared spectroscopy), limited to small or highly symmetrical molecules in the gas phase (electron diffraction, microwave spectrometry), or yet excruciatingly labor- and time-intensive (X-ray diffraction).

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Isis review, Reinhardt

Carsten Reinhardt. Shifting and Rearranging. Physical Methods and the Transformation of Modern Chemistry.
vii + 428 pp. figs., ill., app., index. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications/USA, 2006. $49.95 (cloth).

The history of chemistry after World War II is a relatively uncultivated field, not only compared with the chemical revolution in the late 18th century but also with chemistry in the 19th century. (In this respect, history of chemistry differs from history of physics.) And yet it can be argued that chemistry underwent a second revolution in the 1950s and 1960s, an “instrumental revolution” that profoundly changed the field. Carsten Reinhardt is not the first historian to call attention to this revolutionary phase, but he does it in a new way which focuses on the transfer of instrumental research methods from physics to chemistry. At the center of the transformation were instruments based on physical methods and knowledge, of which Reinhardt deals in particular with NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. The development of chemical NMR is the main subject of the chapters 2, 4 and 6, whereas mass spectrometry and its wide-ranging use in organic chemistry is examined in the chapters 3 and 5. In a final chapter on “The Spectrum of Methods,” Reinhardt summarizes and reconsiders the complex interplay of physical and chemical methods, both in academic science and as it influenced the academic-industrial collaboration.

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Shifting and Rearranging Carsten Reinhardt

Shifting and Rearranging – Physical Methods and the Transformation of Modern Chemistry
von Carsten Reinhardt, Science History Publications, Watson Publishing International, Sagamore Beach, MA, U.S.A., 2006, 428 S., XX,XX Euro, ISBN 0-88135-354-X.

Zur Strukturbestimmung chemischer Substanzen wurden bis in die Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts im wesentlichen zwei physikalische Geräte eingesetzt: die Waage und das Thermometer. Es gab zwar bereits Geräte zur Bestimmung des Dipolmoments, des Brechungsindex, des pH-Werts und anderer physikalischer Größen, sie spielten aber im Alltag präparativer Chemiker eine eher untergeordnete Rolle. Das Thermometer (Schmelzpunkt, Siedpunkt, Mischschmelzpunkt) diente der Reinheitskontrolle, auf die Waage war man bei der Bestimmung der Elementarzusammensetzung angewiesen. Dass diese einfachen Geräte so wirkungsvoll eingesetzt werden konnten, lag jedoch vor allen Dingen daran, dass im Zentrum der Strukturbestimmung die chemische Reaktion, bzw. die Verknüpfung chemischer Reaktionen durch den Experimentator stand und die die eigentliche intellektuelle Leistung bei der Strukturbestimmung bildete.
Das sollte sich nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg so tiefgreifend ändern, dass mit Fug und Recht von einer Revolution gesprochen werden kann. Diese hatte sich bereits durch die (recht langsame) Einführung von UV- und auch IR-Spektrometern angekündigt, brach jedoch erst dann wirklich aus, als NMR-Spektroskopie und Massenspektrometrie zu Routinelabormethoden wurden. Mit der „Übernahme“ der Strukturbestimmung durch diese beiden physikalischen Methoden beschäftigt sich das vorliegende Buch und auf sie bezieht sich auch der zunächst vielleicht ein wenig rätselhafte Titel.

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Carsten Reinhardt book review-1

Organic spectroscopy, the application of spectroscopic methods to determination of the structure of the molecules organic chemists are interested in, came of age during the Golden Sixties. The twin engines which lifted it to prominence were mass spectrometry (ms), which had been developed extensively in the nineteen-fifties when engineers analyzed the hydrocarbons present in oil; and nuclear magnetic resonance (nmr), which had been discovered in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
Organic spectroscopy arose out of a bleak, almost desertic landscape. In the early nineteen-fifties, available instrumental techniques were indirect only (dipolemetry, ultraviolet electronic spectra interpreted with the Woodward rules, infrared spectroscopy), limited to rather small or highly symmetrical molecules in the gas phase (electron diffraction, microwave spectrometry), or yet excruciatingly labor- and time-intensive (X-ray diffraction).

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AMBIX, Vol. 53, No. 1, March 2006, 87–96

Newton’s Darkness: Two Dramatic Views. By CARL DJERASSI and DAVID PINNER. Pp. 184. Imperial College Press: London. 2003. £18.00, $24.00 (hbk); £11.00, $15.00 (pbk). ISBN: 1-86094-390-6 (hbk); 1-86094-390-X (pbk).

Newton’s darkness is threefold. In his science, there is an obscure undercurrent of alchemy.In his religion, there is a strand of heretical Arianism. And at the root of his sentiments, there is an area of repressed homosexuality. These darknesses play a role in the plays written by David Pinner and Carl Djerassi on Newton’s fights against Robert Hooke and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
Pinner’s dramatic view is called “Newton’s Hooke.” Here, Newton’s darknesses are only hinted at. What kinds of assistant are John Wickins and Nicolas Fatio de Duillier? Arius appears only once, at Trinity College, Cambridge, during the official redefinition of the Lucasian Chair; and Newton’s nocturnal alchemy is symbolised by a crucible covered with a cloth and the Star Regulus of Antimony as a gateway to the true Law of Universal Gravitation. But these alchemical experiments and theories should be left in the dark because, as Newton whispers, “the Art is not to be shouted abroad.”

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AMBIX, Vol. 54, No. 2, July 2007, 213–216

Essay review

The Road to Scientific Success: Inspiring Life Stories of Prominent Researchers. Volume 1. Edited by DEBORAH D.L. CHUNG. Pp. xi + 230, illus., index. World Scientific: Singapore and London. 2006. £33.00 (hbk); £17.00 (pbk).
ISBN: 981-256-600-7 (hbk); 981-256-466-7 (pbk).

Nature not Mocked: Places, People and Science. By PETER DAY. Pp. x + 262, illus., index. Imperial College Press: London. 2005. $48.00. ISBN: 1-86094-576-7.

Candid Science: Conversations with Famous Chemists. By István Hargittai, and edited by Magdolna Hargittai. Pp. xii + 516, illus., index. Imperial College Press: London. 2000. £48.00 (hbk); £21.00 (pbk). ISBN: 1-86094-151-6 (hbk); 1-86094-228-8 (pbk).

Candid Science V: Conversations with Famous Scientists. By Balazs Hargittai and István Hargittai. Pp. xiii + 695, illus., index. Imperial College Press: London. 2005. £34.00. ISBN: 1-86094-506-6 (pbk).

These four books elicit biographical information from the subjects themselves. They exemplify pitfalls of biography well-familiar to historians.1 They signal paths for biographers in general, oral biographers in particular. Their marginal value is to point to new directions which chemical science has entered.
One should not underestimate, as is currently fashionable, the merits of a biographical approach. To put it into a nutshell: “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.”2

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The Art of Gardens in Maurice Scève’s Microcosme

 

Maurice Scève (1501?-1564?) is a major French poet of the sixteenth century best known for Délie (1544), a series of decasyllabic dizains dedicated to his beloved lady. He also wrote a most ambitious encyclopaedic poem, Microscosme (1562), embracing the whole creation. This paper analyzes in some detail the twelve lines he devotes to gardens and relates them to the contemporary art of gardens.

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L'Histoire du concept de 'molécule'

The molecule is central to structural chemistry; while the reaction holds a similar position for chemical dynamics. The trap for any history of the molecule is to swell into a history of chemistry. True, there is considerable overlap. But there is all the more need for focus that the molecule has just risen again to the apex of chemistry. The advent of molecular computers is imminent, some believe. Single molecule chemistry has become a research boulevard. ‘Vizualizing’ individual molecules is a related hype-producing topic. Duplicating by synthesis molecules of nature, however formidable, is now routine.

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Mapping the Spectrum: Techniques of Visual Representation in Research and Teaching

This is a monumental production, in many respects. The copious book of 562 pages is organized in only ten chapters. Accordingly, these are hefty. This, together with the style, whose characteristic is not levity, loaded as it is with both long words and many quotations, makes for a reading a bit difficult at times. However, this is more than compensated by the author’s admirable mastery of his material.The author, who has already several science historical books under his belt, teaches at Göttingen.

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A Bird’s-Eye View - The New Chemistry

The New Chemistry. Nina Hall, ed. xi + 493 pp. Cambridge University Press

As a teenager, I was given a copy of John C. Slater’s Modern Physics. It would be hard to overstate its influence—it made a scientist out of me. It belonged to a class of very special books that are authoritative despite being popularizations, that are encyclopedic but also report the state of the science, that are conceptually rigorous but are light on equations and avoid jargon. Such books nurture a sense of vocation in budding scientists and are thus invaluable. The New Chemistry, which aspires to showcase the best of contemporary chemistry, may belong on the sparsely populated shelf of books in this class.

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Casseroles & Eprouvettes

By Hervé This

The subject of this meandering and rather appealingly eccentric if always well researched and reasonably well written book is quite fascinating: the actual science of cooking and of taste. What the author argues in the most general of terms across a variety of essays on a range of different gustatory and gastronomic subjects is that science, and specifically chemistry and biology, can be used to explain various aspects of the human sense of taste, along with various culinary behaviors and traditions, and methods of food production.
    Unfortunately, a much too abbreviated and lightweight introduction stands before the first of the extremely interesting case studies that comprise this book,  two of the most compelling of which are “Le Bouillon,” or a history of the art of bouillon making matted against a backdrop of what science now shows us is the optimal way of producing same, or “How Salt Modifies Taste” (the presence of salt enhances our ability to taste sugar, and reduces our sensitivity to tastes that are bitter).

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