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Science teacher

Book>>Canon The Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier Penguin India Rs 399

By Aparajita Sen
Published: Sunday 15 March 2009

A lot of us who flaunt our knowledge of current events, politics, literature, computers or even history are philistines when it comes to matters of science. I am one of those. I would rather be discussing the prospects of the Congress party in the coming Lok Sabha elections than India's moon mission.

I did not have Natalie Angier to guide me. She is the eighth-grade science teacher you always wished you had. In Canon The Beautiful Basics of Science, she writes, "Adults dissuade kids with the dry ways that they teach."

Angier's goals are summed up in two words in her subtitle beautiful basics. She breaks her book into nine chapters Physics, Chemistry, Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Biology, Geology, Astronomy and three chapters needed to understand the other six.Particularly fascinating is the section on the age of the earth. Angier points out the earth is really quite young. At first it seems hard to believe--the earth is five billion years old. But Angier points out that the number is not unimaginably large and shows how. She says take the ages of all people currently living and add them up, and the formation of the earth can be reached over 20 times. So, what's the big deal about 5.7 billion?

Down to Earth But one can't know everything. So, why should a science-challenged person like me bother to update herself? Angier's response is persuasive. She shows how the basics of physics, for example, are crucial for explaining a phenomenon such as electricity and how molecular biology gives you sound reasons for flossing your teeth.

Our health and sustenance require an appreciation of the basics of science. What about its social and ethical aspects? Angier argues, "It is a matter of conscience and politics." Our species understands a lot about our universe. Angier shows that a failure to nurture this knowledge is indifference to humankind's achievements. She reignites our childhood delight in discovering how things work.

Aparajita Sen teaches English at Calcutta University

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