Quirks & Quarks

Holiday Book Show

In our Holiday Book Show, we've got several ideas for popular science books you might pick up, using your new gift cards. First, Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman tells us how the human body evolved over millions of years, and why it may not be adapted for our modern environment and lifestyle. Then, American science journalist Lee Billings tells...

In our Holiday Book Show, we've got several ideas for popular science books you might pick up, using your new gift cards. First, Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman tells us how the human body evolved over millions of years, and why it may not be adapted for our modern environment and lifestyle. Then, American science journalist Lee Billings tells us about the search for habitable planets in our universe. And finally, Canadian astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana tells us about the search for the elusive neutrino, and why it matters.



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The Story of the Human Body

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Humans evolved to suit their environment, like every other organism on Earth. But what are we adapted for? That's the question that Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University asks at the beginning of his new book, The Story of the Human Body - Evolution, Health and Disease. The answer is tricky, when it comes to humans. Though we evolved in Africa from ape-like ancestors, we are physically adapted to a range of environments, and culturally adapted to many, many more. Nevertheless, our cultural evolution, first with the development of agriculture, and then later with modern industrialization, has us living in conditions we are not well suited to - with less diverse and less healthy diets, and a predisposition to unhealthy sedentary tendencies. And so, we suffer from diseases and disorders as diverse as myopia and flat feet to diabetes and heart disease. Dr. Lieberman suggests that understanding how we got here is an important element in understanding what we need to do about the mismatches between our bodies and lifestyle.       

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Did Life Travel From Earth to Mars?

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As far as we know, for over 4-and-1/2 billion years, our planet has led a unique and lonely existence all by itself, in a silent universe devoid of extraterrestrial life. But that may be changing because, in the past 20 years, astronomers have found more and more 'exoplanets' - planets that orbit other stars, and therefore may be like our Earth.  Although we still don't know if we are alone, we may be closer to finding out that we may not be so special after all. That's the theme of the new book, Five Billion Years Of Solitude, The Search For Life Among The Stars, written by American science journalist Lee Billings. In it, he introduces to several so-called 'planet hunters' - astronomers and planetary scientists who feel - despite the enormous cost and the vastness of the universe - that the search must go on.

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Neutrino Hunters


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Nearly 100 years ago, physicists realized that a tiny bit of energy was disappearing from nuclear reactions they were observing. They theorized that this energy was being carried in the form of a particle with peculiar ghostly properties, which was dubbed the "neutrino." It was decades before this "ghost particle" was actually detected, and scientists are still attempting to understand its behaviour. Dr. Ray Jayawardhana, Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, is fascinated by this story, and tells it in his new book, Neutrino Hunters - The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. According to Dr. Jayawardhana, the elusiveness of the neutrino is all the more interesting because they are so plentiful. Uncounted billions of neutrinos pass through your body every second. He suggests that as we become better at detecting them, they may help us understand more about the invisible universe.
   

Related Links

  • Excerpt from Neutrino Hunters
  • Dr. Jayawardhana previously on Quirks, discussing his earlier book, Strange New Worlds

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0

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