What does every engineer want for the holidays?

Skip the presents and go for the (engineering) experience.

During the holiday season, one tends to think of presents. But today’s designers, manufacturers and sellers tell us the product is but a commodity and what we really want is the experience.

Engineers and scientists are really like most ordinary consumers except in their interest in experiences that deal with great technical achievements, failures and the future – technologies that are yet to be. So, rather than a set of catchy products, this list will focus on unique experiences with particular appeal to engineers and scientists. 

I. Books 

Reading is an experience unlike no other in that it can be done by any literate person at almost any time and in any place. Here is a very short list of science and engineering related books released in 2019:

> Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus – The Language of the Universe, by Steven Strogatz (Atlantic Books) 

This is the story of mathematics’ greatest ever idea: calculus. Without it, there would be no computers, no microwave ovens, no GPS, and no space travel. But before it gave modern man almost infinite powers, calculus was behind centuries of controversy, competition, and even death.

Professor Steven Strogatz charts the development of this seminal achievement from the days of Archimedes to today’s breakthroughs in chaos theory and artificial intelligence. Filled with idiosyncratic characters from Pythagoras to Fourier, Infinite Powers is a compelling human drama that reveals the legacy of calculus on nearly every aspect of modern civilization, including science, politics, medicine, philosophy, and much besides.

> Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World, by John Gribbin (Icon Books Ltd.) 

Quantum physics is strange. It tells us that a particle can be in two places at once. Indeed, that particle is also a wave, and everything in the quantum world can be described entirely in terms of waves, or entirely in terms of particles, whichever you prefer.

All of this was clear by the end of the 1920s. But to the great distress of many physicists, let alone ordinary mortals, nobody has ever been able to come up with a common sense explanation of what is going on. Physicists have sought ‘quanta of solace’ in a variety of more or less convincing interpretations. Popular science master John Gribbin takes us on a tour through the ‘big six’, from the Copenhagen interpretation via the pilot wave and many worlds approaches.

> Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity by Jamie Metzl (Sourcebooks) 

At the dawn of the genetics revolution, our DNA is becoming as readable, writable, and hackable as our information technology. But as humanity starts retooling our own genetic code, the choices we make today will be the difference between realizing breathtaking advances in human well-being and descending into a dangerous and potentially deadly genetic arms race.

Enter the laboratories where scientists are turning science fiction into reality. Look towards a future where our deepest beliefs, morals, religions, and politics are challenged like never before and the very essence of what it means to be human is at play. When we can engineer our future children, massively extend our lifespans, build life from scratch, and recreate the plant and animal world, should we?

Image Source: Sourcebooks

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