M. F. Perutz (1914–2002) was an Austrian molecular biologist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1962. He is the author of Is Science Necessary?, Protein Structure, and I Wish I’d Made You Angry Earlier.

Growing Up Among the Elements

London’s Science Museum in South Kensington was closed during the Second World War. When it reopened in 1945, the twelve-year-old Oliver Sacks discovered there the periodic table of the chemical elements. They were written in large letters on a wall, with samples of each element or one of its compounds …

What If?

At dawn on May 10, 1940, Hitler’s armies broke into Belgium and Holland. That same afternoon Winston Churchill took office as prime minister of Great Britain. At 7:30 AM on May 15, Paul Reynaud, the French premier, woke Churchill with the news that German tanks were pouring into France across …

The Threat of Biological Weapons

“Science without conscience is the death of the soul.” —Peter Abelard (1079-1144) Men and women of good will talk of a common humanity, a common empathy with people everywhere who have hopes and sorrows similar to their own. Ken Alibek’s book is about a common inhumanity, a gigantic effort …

The Top Designer

We owe chemists and physicists our knowledge of the composition of living matter, of the conversion of the sun’s heat into chemical energy, and of the myriad molecular interactions that sustain life. Steven Vogel’s Cats’ Paws and Catapults is the first book that has made me look at biology through …

A Passion for Science

Lise Meitner’s career as a scientist spanned most of the heroic age of atomic physics, from the discovery of radioactivity in 1896 to the discovery of atomic fission in 1938. Born in Vienna in 1878, she spent her working life in Berlin, where Einstein called her “our Marie Curie.” Her …

The Cabinet of Dr. Haber

“As far as science is concerned, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that to look upon it as a means of increasing one’s power is a sin against the Holy Ghost.” —Karl Popper, “The Moral Responsibility of the Scientist” * FRITZ HABER: “It was never, ever my …

The Pioneer Defended

“There is a real world independent of our senses; the laws of nature were not invented by man, but forced upon him by that natural world. They are the expression of a rational world order.” —Max Planck, The Philosophy of Physics Louis Pasteur was the father of modern …

The White Plague

What did Cardinal Richelieu, Heinrich Heine, Frédéric Chopin, Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, and Eleanor Roosevelt have in common? They all died of tuberculosis because the treatments available until about fifty years ago probably did little to prolong sufferers’ lives. Ryan’s story of the discovery of the antibiotics and …

‘An Intellectual Bumblebee’

On August 13, 1940, Lt. Col. S.V. Constant of US Military Intelligence reported: “ENRICO FERMI…. He is supposed to have left Italy because of the fact that his wife is Jewish…. He is undoubtedly a Fascist…. Employment of this person on secret work is not recommended.” “MR SZELARD. [sic] He …

The Fifth Freedom

The world population now increases by 1.7 percent (90 million) per year, while production of cereals is increasing by only 0.9 percent per year. During the past twenty years there have been about 200 million hunger-related deaths; the growing food deficit may raise that number five-fold in the next twenty …

A Mystery of the Tropics

Some years ago I listened to an emotional appeal by a director of the World Health Organization to fight against the parasitic infections that kill millions of children in the Poor World every year. His speech fell flat, partly because the audience regarded it as a well-rehearsed and often repeated …

High on Science

Peter Medawar was a great biologist whose research helped to make possible the transplantation of human organs. He also thought profoundly about the methods, the meaning, and the values of scientific research, and he published his thoughts in books and essays that are models of clarity, style, and wit. Born …

Is Britain ‘Befouled’?

Here in Britain we are all criminals: guilty of conniving at a crime against humanity committed by a government that is polluting the Irish Sea, the British Isles, the entire globe with the radioactive discharges from its nuclear plants at Sellafield, a village in northwest England, on the Irish Sea.