January 1, 1983
This absorbing book explores a wide variety of surprising and marvelous adaptive phenomena in nature. It is a simply written and well-illustrated account of the world of biophysics – the ingenious means plants and animals have devised to turn the principles of physics and engineering to their advantage in the struggle to adapt and survive. Almost every modern scientific “discovery” involving light, sound, electricity, movement, or structure has been exploited for eons by one creature or another.
Among the many examples the book discusses are the aerodynamics of insect and bird flight; the use of the Doppler effect by bats in the location of obstacles; the “air conditioning” of termite mounds; the harmony of hydrodynamic form and movement in fishes; the way plants solved the problem of converting and storing solar energy; the numerous devices organisms have found for overcoming high pressure, heat, cold, or aridity; insects’ use of surface tension to walk on water; the infrared sensitivity that enables snakes to hunt at night; the use of electrical impulses for orientation by certain fishes; and road construction and traffic planning among social insects.
A review of the original edition noted that “this thrilling commentary on the means by which life has solved its survival problems in the process of evolution… provides… a new vision… that nature and engineering are not incompatible and that a less forceful technology than ours lies completely within the realm of possibility.”
The numerous photographs and drawings aid in making complex phenomena and physical principles clear to nonspecialists.
Helmut Tributsch is Professor of Physical Chemistry at the Free University of Berlin and author of When the Snakes Awake: Animals and Earthquake Prediction, recently published by The MIT Press.