Library notes: Sometimes the smallest things have the biggest impact

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 7, 2009

By Rebecca Hyde
Rowan Public Library
What are things made of? The following books offer voyages of discovery to what we tread on, move through, cannot see or hardly imagine. These are “stories of the invisible” and “big consequences of little things.”
Philip Ball’s “Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules” provides an overview of modern chemical science and molecular biology in particular. The molecule takes center stage because in the submicroscopic world, molecules are the “words” and atoms are just the “letters.” In living organisms, they are indeed wonderful “storytellers.”
When describing molecular activity within the cell, that “molecule-maker,” Ball points out astonishing levels of cooperation and communication, with checkpoints, safety mechanisms, back-up plans, careful record-keeping.
In 1994, it was suggested that DNA molecules could be used to solve the same problems as computers. In the near future, perhaps nano-computers will take the place of silicon-based computers.
Hannah Holmes introduces us to the study of dust in “The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little Things.” This is a fragmenting world, in a constant state of disintegration, so studying some of the planet’s “smallest reporters” can give us a sense of the state of things.
Dust is indispensable, but it’s also murderous. We employ dust for planting crops, for building and for making pottery. On the dark side, pollution dusts can kill. Dust is at the origin of stars, and dust is in our future.
What else is everywhere, silent and invisible to the naked eye? Germs. Philip Tierno, in “The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter,” provides us a view of another microscopic world, complex and well-ordered. The cycle of life requires the action of germs at every stage.
We depend on many germs to keep our economy going: yeasts in breadmaking, algae in manufacturing cosmetics and paints, and soil bacteria for antibiotics. As Tierno says, the biological future of nature’s “greatest creature,” man, depends on an “intimate cooperation with nature’s least, the germ.”
In “Good Germs, Bad Germs, Health and Survival in a Bacterial World,” Jessica Sachs covers our war on germs, and our emerging understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the human body and its microbes, which outnumber human cells by a factor of nine to one.
Microbiologist David Thaler sums up the challenge: human beings don’t function optimally when they attempt to embed themselves in a sterile environment, and would do better by learning to live “up close and personal in a seamlessly continuous world.”
In the future we may be replacing antibacterial cleaners and cleansers with bacterial ones, and our war on infectious disease will become a restoration of balance, quieting overly aggressive immune systems and bolstering microflora’s ability to perform vital functions in the human body.
Computer classes: Classes are free. Sessions are 90 minutes long. Class size is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Dates and times are subject to change without notice.
Headquarters ó Monday, 7 p.m., Absolute Beginners Excel; Thursday, 2:30 p.m., Internet Searching: Beyond the Basics; Aug. 17, 7 p.m., Excel: Beyond the Basics; Aug. 20, 2:30 p.m., Safe Internet Surfing.
Tuesday Night at the Movies: All movies are at 6:30 p.m. All movies are rated G, PG or PG 13; some movies are inappropriate for younger audiences. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Free popcorn and lemonade.
Recent releases will be featured in August.
Tuesday, “Inkheart” with Brenden Fraser; Aug. 18, “Push” with Dakota Fleming; Aug. 25, “Slumdog Millionaire,” rated R. No one under 18 admitted without parent.
Displays: Headquarters ó wood art by Howard Reinhardt and N.C. Rowan County Anime Group by Robert Allen; South ó lunch box collection by Sharon Ross. East ó wood artist Stephen Martin.Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.