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Lifes Ratchet How Molecular Machines Extract Order From Chaosby Peter Hoffmann
Synopses & Reviews
Life is an enduring mystery. Yet, science tells us that living beings are merely sophisticated structures of lifeless molecules. If this view is correct, where do the seemingly purposeful motions of cells and organisms originate? In Lifes Ratchet, physicist Peter M. Hoffmann locates the answer to this age-old question at the nanoscale.
Below the calm, ordered exterior of a living organism lies microscopic chaos, or what Hoffmann calls the molecular storm—specialized molecules immersed in a whirlwind of colliding water molecules. Our cells are filled with molecular machines, which, like tiny ratchets, transform random motion into ordered activity, and create the purpose” that is the hallmark of life. Tiny electrical motors turn electrical voltage into motion, nanoscale factories custom-build other molecular machines, and mechanical machines twist, untwist, separate and package strands of DNA. The cell is like a city—an unfathomable, complex collection of molecular workers working together to create something greater than themselves.
Life, Hoffman argues, emerges from the random motions of atoms filtered through these sophisticated structures of our evolved machinery. We are agglomerations of interacting nanoscale machines more amazing than anything in science fiction. Rather than relying on some mysterious life force” to drive them—as people believed for centuries—lifes ratchets harness instead the second law of thermodynamics and the disorder of the molecular storm.
Grounded in Hoffmanns own cutting-edge research, Lifes Ratchet reveals the incredible findings of modern nanotechnology to tell the story of how the noisy world of atoms gives rise to life itself.
"By blending the laws of physics with the principles of biology, Hoffmann, a professor of physics and material science at Wayne State, attempts to explain how molecules give rise to living organisms. Molecules inside our cells, he says, are the smallest particles of life. These molecules act like robots: they build themselves, perform tasks, and are recycled to perform new tasks. These 'molecular machines' use the energy of chaos surrounding them — in which atoms are buffeted by the random motion of the 'molecular storm' — to create order and give rise to life. Hoffmann provides a rather dry and lengthy historical and philosophical perspective on the definition of life, concluding that it is 'the result of noise and chaos, filtered through the structures of highly sophisticated molecular machines that have evolved over billions of years.' The biological mechanisms he describes are from the cutting edge of the discipline, but may be presented in more detail than is necessary for the average reader. One confusion is that the 'molecular machines' in the title all refer to naturally occurring combinations of molecules rather than any of those currently being created in the laboratories of nanotechnologists. 40 b&w illus. Agent: Russell Galen at Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Peter M. Hoffmann is a Professor of Physics and Materials Science at Wayne State University in Michigan, and the Founder and Director of the universitys Biomedical Physics program. Born and raised in Germany, Hoffmann studied Mathematics and Physics at the Technical University of Clausthal, Germany. In 1992, he came to the U.S., where he studied physics at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He completed an M.S. in Physics in the area of nanoscience, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. Hoffman is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, as well as the Richard Barber Faculty and Staff Excellence Award, the College of Science and Presidential Teaching Awards, and the Career Development Chair Award from Wayne State University. He lives in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan.
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