Wired has an article on DDT Paraphanalia

Greg Miller wrote an article for Wired’s website entitled, “Vintage Pesticide Paraphernalia From the Glory Days of DDT.”  The article draws on the collections of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and ties nicely to our recent discussions of Silent Spring.  Objects like those shown in the article help historians with an extended set of questions about an historical episode as compared to what we can pull out of books and articles alone.

Next: An Examination of Gene Patenting and Genetic Engineering


From the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were a number of looming legal and ethical questions relating to the relatively new field of genetics research. With the Human Genome Project nearing its end, scientists were scrambling to claim discovery of various genes. Because it was such a new area of research and far abstracted from intuitive understanding, many of the important legal issues surrounding genetic research were unresolved. Among them was the issue of whether or not discovered genes were subject to patent. Despite the highly questionable nature of the practice, many companies began successfully filing patents on genes they discovered, speculating that they could make profit off whatever products were derived from the use of that knowledge.
Michael Crichton’s novel Next explores the issue of gene patenting, as well as issues of genetic engineering of humans and transgenic species. Most of his conclusions are pretty clear from reading the novel, but he’s kind enough to spell out his conclusions in the Author’s Note. His most evident claim is that gene patenting is wrong (Crichton, 543-546), but he also concludes that we need to “establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues (Crichton, 546-549);” we must “pass laws to ensure that data about genetic testing is made public (Crichton, 546-549);” we should “avoid bans on research (Crichton, 546-549);” and that rescinding the Bayh-Dole Act is imperative (Crichton, 549-551). Crichton manages to discuss the fringes of science and human experimentation without making claims that “scientists have gone to far,” or “we shouldn’t play god” and instead takes the more nuanced stance that we need to workout the ethical implications of genetic research that will inevitably take place so that we can properly regulate it; this opposed to the ad hoc approach of doing the research and then deciding its acceptability.


The book Next follows a number of characters all following interconnected stories. It begins following a private detective and bounty hunter, Vasco Borden, as he pursues a thief who made off with 12 stolen embryos: setting the scene for a tale of intrigue and corporate espionage (Crichton, 15-17). But after his pursuit goes South, the story turns to Alex and Frank Burnett in court over a legal claim against the University of California (Crichton, 36-38). Alex, Frank’s daughter and attorney, is helping him argue that the University treated him unjustly, leading him to believe he was sick so they could harvest his cells without his consent; the trial is not going well (Crichton 36-44). This is the setup for one of the major plot arcs of the book. Frank loses the case and the University is given the legal rights to harvest his cells to sell to BioGen, a company who patented his cell line. BioGen then takes the stance that it has ownership over Frank’s cell line which includes the cells of his offspring. Biogen seeks to harvest cells from him and then Alex and her son, leading him and Alex to become fugitives from Biogen, hunted by Vasco Borden. This arc is resolved when a higher court rules that BioGen cannot own the Burnett cell line.
This story is then tied in with the story of Rick Diel the CEO of BioGen. Diel is portrayed as a speculator with little concern for ethics; if there is a villain in Next, it is probably Diel. Diel is undergoing a divorce and tries to exploit the possibility his wife has Huntingtons to get custody; she does not want to get tested, yet he argues that if she is going to start experiencing neural degeneration while raising their daughter, that he would surely be more fit a parent. Thus he attempts to force her to undergo genetic testing she does not want, or else give in to his custody demands. His ploy works and his wife escapes him and his attorney — abandoning her custody rights in the process. All the while Diel is dealing with a number of security breaches which ultimately result in the destruction of the Burnett cell line, forcing him to attempt to harvest more cells, leading to the Burnett’s fleeing. Eventually, Diel’s schemes fail and he is forced to resign.
There are a number of other story arcs, all of which are deeply interconnected and revolve around BioGen. Most notably, is the story arc of researcher Henry Kendall, who finds his DNA has been used to create a transgenic ape-boy. Henry saves the ape-boy, whom he names Dave, from being executed to hide the illegal experiment and adopts him as a son. The specifics of how Dave came about discussed in detail as well as the challenges of raising a hybrid ape-boy in a human society. There is also a story arc following a BioGen researcher, Josh, who accidentally infects his brother with a vector that inserts in him the “maturity gene” he’s been researching. It initially seems to cure his brother’s drug addiction, but it leads him to age prematurely and die at 21 of heart failure. Aside from these, there are a number of side stories, all of which relate to modern genetics somehow.

About Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton (1942-2011) was an extremely successful author and screenwriter of science fiction. Today, he is probably best remembered for Jurassic Park, but he also wrote 16 other novels (including The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and The Great Train Robbery), as well as 5 non-fiction books, 11 books under a pseudonym, 2 original screenplays, and produced the hit TV show ER (crichton-official.com). In addition, he made many of his books into movies and helped make his novel The Andromeda Strain into a televisions series (crichton-official.com).
Part of Crichton’s success can surely be attributed to his deep understanding of science. Michael Crichton received his M.D. from Harvard where he graduated Suma Cum Laude (crichton-official.com). He then went on to study Biological Studies as a postdoctoral student at the Salk Institute (crichton-official.com). Crichton subsequently taught a number of college courses (crichton-official.com). As a scientist himself, Crichton understood that scientists were, like everyone else, capable of both good and evil. His books tended to take a nuanced view of scientists; they did not fall into the common trap of claiming that science had “gone to far,” but they also did not idolize science as the key to a utopian world. Instead, Crichton created a sense of wonder and awe in his work: showing how science could be exploited with horrible effects, but also explaining its many benefits to mankind. And the scientists in his stories were not all paragons or villains, but represented a vast array of archetypes and personalities.

The Human Genome Project and Genetic Engineering

The novel Next is centered around modern genetics research. The book was published in 2006 — just 3 years after the completion of the Human Genome Project — which serves as the cornerstone for that research. The Human Genome project began in 1990 and was ongoing till April 2003, when it was completed “ahead of schedule” and “under budget (nih.gov).” The goal of the project was to map the human genome so as to increase our general understanding of human DNA and help us to “understand the genetic factors in human disease (nih.gov).” This was done through the use of gene sequencing technology developed in the 1970s (nih.gov). As of 2013, the NIH reports that it has “fueled the discover of over 1800 disease genes (nih.gov).” The project has dramatically reduced the amount of time required to find disease genes — from several years to several days (nih.gov).
Specifically though, Next focuses on the issue of gene patenting that became common practice in wake of the project. In the book, the company BioGen claims the right to a man’s cells because they control the legal rights to parts of his DNA. While this seems absurd, it is an unfortunate legal ambiguity that arises as a result of allowing companies to patent scientific fact. As of 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring genes were not subject to patent (ScotusBlog). Prior to this, the practice of patenting naturally occurring genes had run rampant. According to National Geographic in 2005, just one year prior to the release of Next, one fifth of the human genome had been patented (nationalgeographic.com). As a result, genetic research became very difficult, since in order to study a particular gene, or develop any product using knowledge of a particular gene, scientists had to negotiate the right to do so with the patent holder of that gene. The purpose of the patent is to provide companies with incentive to do research, but gene patenting very clearly got in the way of that research.
Another area of difficulty for genetic patents is in the creation of genetically modified foods. Clearly a batch of seed genetically engineered to increase crop yield and resist disease is a product of specifically created human processes and is thus subject to patent. The problem is plants reproduce, and Monsanto, a major provider of genetically modified crops, is claiming farmers do not have the right to save the seed from the crops they plant from seed they buy from Monsanto (monsanto.com). They consider saving the seed to replant it to be producing their patented product (monsanto.com). While the courts have sided with Monsanto so far, the ruling is highly questionable. From a practical standpoint, its highly inefficient and makes little sense to tell farmers they simply have to dispose of valuable seeds, just so they can by the same seeds from Monsanto; it seems almost vindictive. And from a more legally rational standpoint, the ruling doesn’t make sense because the farmers aren’t producing the seed using Monsanto’s patented process; the plants make the seed and the farmers simply have the good sense to use it.
Another field brought up in Next was genetic engineering — specifically, the study and creation of transgenic species. Genetic engineering can refer to any means of trying to manipulate genetic structure; in some sense, breeding plants and animals to produce certain traits is genetic engineering. However, in the book and in the common usage, genetic engineering refers to methods of splicing genes from one organism into another, by cutting and combining separate strands of DNA (“Playing God”). In “Playing God,” the second episode in a five part PBS documentary series, a number of scientists, in particular Herbert Boyer, explain the the nature of genetic engineering, its founding, and its evolution as a science. According to the documentary, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen discovered a process for recombining DNA (“Playing God”). The basic idea is that they “cleave” the DNA, cutting off a piece using certain enzymes, and then insert cleaved DNA from another organism in its place (“Playing God”). Boyer later used this process to attach human insulin producing cells to bacteria — thus creating a method to efficiently mass produce insulin to treat diabetics (“Playing God”). Many other drugs are synthesised using similar processes (“Playing God”). The documentary also talked about use of genetic engineering in food production to cut back on disease, and increase yield (“Playing God”).
Next explored the idea of having genes linked to human intelligence and brain development spliced into animals. Dave, an ape with near human intelligence, is such a creature in the story. Dave is not treated as an abomination by the story, but his existence raises a number of troubling questions. His “parents” enroll him in school, and while he functions well enough on a basic level, he has serious attention deficit problems and still exhibits ape like behavior, particularly when under stress. Towards the end of the story, he even responds to attacks on him by biting and throwing feces. The problem Dave creates is that he blurs the line between human and animal and thus makes it very difficult for us to identify his niche. He thinks, speaks, and is within the range of intelligence of other children his age, but he still isn’t quite human. Our society isn’t designed to meet his needs, yet it would be improper to treat him as a non-person. The book never makes judgement about whether or not transgenic species like Dave should exist, it merely raises some questions to consider about what that would mean for us and them. In many ways the book also seems to conclude that its an inevitability that they eventually will.


Genetic engineering is a fascinating and promising field, but its potential to blur the line between man and animal raises a number of ethical concerns. Next explores many of the issues surrounding the controversies of genetic engineering from last decade, many of which are still unresolved. It is encouraging that the Supreme Court ruled natural genes were scientific fact not subject to patent, but there are still many legal issues to be resolved surrounding genetic patents, because reproduction makes things tricky. And as for transgenics, those issues are still in the air as well. We already create transgenic species using human genes, though we have yet to create something that’s clearly a person, but not quite human. Crichton claims though, that it will come. Hopefully, we can answer the tough questions before it does; ad hoc is seldom a good approach to ethics.

Works Cited

“About Michael Crichton.” Constant Contact Productions.
http://www.crichton-official.com/aboutmichaelcrichton-biography.html. Web. July 3.

“Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.” SCOTUSblog. http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/association-for-molecular-pathology-v-myriad-genetics-inc/. 2014. Web. July 3. 2014.

Crichton, Michael. Next. Harper Colins. 2006. e-Book. 2006.
Massarella, Carlo. “Playing God.” DNA. PBS. Video. 2003. (link to video at     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3wg-W3Slow).

“Human Genome Project.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=45&key=H#H. March 29. 2013. Web. July 3. 2014.

“One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals.” National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1013_051013_gene_patent.html.
Oct 13. 2005. Web. July 3. 2014.

“Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds.” Monsanto.
e-seeds.aspx. Web. July 3. 2014.

The Journey of I, Robot

Science cannot only be explored through experiments or venturing out in the field but also through literature. Scientific novels allow us to see science through a fictionalized story such as I, Robot. I, Robot is a science fiction that was written by Isaac Asimov in 1950. Along with I, Robot, Asimov has also written several other award winning scientific novels. In I, Robot, several different scientific discoveries, such as expeditions to other planets and creation of robots, are mentioned along with underlying messages on ethics in scientific experiments and psychology.
Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was born on January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia to proud parents Juda and Anna Asimov. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1923 where his family owned a candy store (Gunn, 1982). Asimov taught himself how to read at the age five, and he skipped a total of one and a half years of grade school during elementary. He completed junior high school in two years instead of the usual three and graduated high school at the age of fifteen. Asimov had the ability to retain information really well, but soon noticed that he lacked ability to grasp mathematics or economics. He began to write a series of books at the age of eleven. Being the elderly son, Asimov’s father wanted him to become a physician rather then writing books. Getting into medical school for Asimov was not easy. Medical schools back then had quotas on the number of Jewish students they could allow, thus Asimov never applied to medical school. He graduated with a bachelors of science degree in chemistry from Columbia University. Then he tried to reapply to medical school again but got rejected again, so he obtained his M. A. in 1941. World War II broke out when he was trying to get his doctorate, so he put a halt to his education to become a chemist at the United States Navy Yard in Philadelphia. In 1948, Asimov finally earned his degree and was offered to work at Boston University School of Medicine as an instructor in biochemistry. His passion to write scientific novels never really left him, and once again began to write. He published his first story Marooned of Vesta in April 1940 in the Amazing Stories.

Best of Isaac Asimov books all in one.

Asimov’s writing carrier started to take off to the point were he was making more from his books then his job at Boston University School of Medicine (Gunn, 1982). Originally, Asimov had published several individual stories about robots in the 1940’s, and it was not until 1950 that he combined Robbie, Runaround, Reason, Catch that Rabbit, Liar!, Little Lost Robot, Escape!, Evidence, and The Evitable Conflict into what is known today as I, Robot. He made these individual stories to be a part of a whole story depicting Susan Calvin’s life. By the end of his career, Asimov had received eight Hugo awards and two Nebulas. In 1983, everything came to halt when Asimov had to receive a heart bypass. A blood transfusion

Isaac Asimov won sever Hugos and Nebulas

had taken place during the procedure, and the blood used had been tainted with HIV. In 1992, Asimov died of AIDS.






I, Robot

I, Robot is essentially nine short stories blended together to seem like events that occurred in Doctor Susan Calvin’s life time while working at United States Robot and Mechanical Men Incorporation. The introduction starts out by giving a brief background of Dr. Calvin. An interview (who’s name never gets mentioned) wanted to know more about Dr. Calvin’s life while working for U. S. Robots to feature an article in Interplanetary Press. Susan goes on telling the interviewer nine different stories about robots all revolving around the ethics on creating and using robots. The first story is about the first robot ever made in 1996. His name was Robbie and was sold to be a nursemaid. In this story, the mother is afraid Robbie will get “some little jiggers” and “will go berserk” hurting her daughter Gloria (Asimov, p. 25). Mr. Weston reminds his wife “that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being” thus Gloria is perfectly fine playing with Robbie. Eventually the Weston’s get rid of Robbie, and Susan continues to talk about U. S. Robots. She then mentions the Second Mercury Expeditions led by Michael Donovan and Gregory Powell with the help of robots. The next chapter is called Runaround, and Dr. Susan talks about the accident Powell and Donavan ran into with a robot called Speedy. Donavan had told Speedy to get selenium without putting urgency into the order. Certain terrains on Mercury were harmful to both humans and robots, so when Speedy went to collect selenium he ran into a dilemma. The third law would not allow him to get close enough to the selenium pool, but the second law made him obey Donavan’s order. Powell and Donavan eventually figure out how to make Speedy get selenium back to the station in a timely fashion.
The third chapter mentions another run in Powell and Donavan have with a robot called Cutie. Cutie believed he had a higher intellectual Master who had built him and would only obey to the Master. Powell figured out Cutie is a reasoning robot and there was not getting through to Cutie. The two men leave the station after knowing Cutie could handle the station alone and go back home to a six month vacation. Upon arriving back to U. S. Robots, a new robot had been created. The new robot was one big robot with six tinier robots working underneath named Dave. Dave malfunctioned and could not control six robots at a time decreasing his initiative. Gregory figures out that Dave can only be in charge of five robots at a time in order to fully function properly. The interview stops Susan from mentioning any other robots in space and asked her about robots on Earth.
She mentions her own run in with Herbie the “lying robot”. Herbie was the first mind reading robot ever created due to an error during the creation of his positronic brain. Dr. Susan, who is also a robopsychologists, figured out that Herbie was just obeying the first law of robotics, and thus would lie about things when questioned.

Various I, Robot covers

Herbie could read what people were thinking and what they wanted, so he would lie to them to make sure he would not hurt them.
In the next chapter, Dr. Susan mentions the creation of a ship from The Brain at U. S. Robots. Consolidated Robots approached them wanting to know what was wrong with their ship design, so they had The Brain replicate a new ship. The Brain was told to look at all the paper work , and to reject anything back with discrepancies. However, The Brain just fixed whatever was wrong and built a new ship. Powell and Donavan get stuck in the ship, and The Brain send the ship off into space. Not knowing where the two had been, Dr. Susan and others started to worry, but she knew The Brain had to still abide by the first law thus The Brain would keep the two scientist out of harms way. With this mishap, the government perfected the Jump through hyperspace allowing human colonies on other planets.
Dr. Calvin mentioned all the new discoviries that had occurred along with the several mishaps, but she told the interview that what happened on Earth in the last fifty years was what really mattered. She mentions how Stephen Byerley changed the public’s view on robots. The world has split up into Regions with Byerley as the World Co-ordinator and each region having a Vice-Co-ordinator. Each region focused on different aspects of the economy with robots along side humans. The robots would help calculate things such as how long it would take to finish a canal, how long it would take to grow crops, or how many resources were available to grow crops. The Machines were running the future of the world according to Dr. Calvin, and she believed that the “Society for Humanity” was right when they said that The Machines were taking over humans. The book ends by stating
“It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand-at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Not the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society,-having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy (Asimov, 1950).”
Dr. Calvin saw everything form the beginning of creating the robots to them standing between mankind and destruction. At the end she tells the interviewer she will see no more and resigned.

Early models of robots

Asimov mentioned several robots throughout his novel. Robotics in the 1940s and 1950s was based on two technologies: mathematical control and teleoperators (“World-Information”). In 1940, Asimov released his first short story called “A Strange Playfellow” stating the three laws of robotics (Isom).
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In I, Robot, Asimov mentions his first robot called Robbie who worked through mathematical inputs as well. As time went on, the robots became more intelligent as they did in Asimov’s stories. Alen

Artificial Intelligence was the basis in I, Robot the movie.

Newell and Herber Simon created the Logic Theorist, which was the first expert system that was used to solve difficult math problems (Isom). More research started to take place in artificial intelligence in 1949 (World-Information), which led to the development of the first industrialized used robots. In 1954, George Devol and Joe Enleberger created the first robot ‘arm’ (Isom). With the increase in development of technology in the 1950s, history changed on

The Sputnik

October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched their very first spaceship, the Sputnik (Garber, 2007). The space race had begun, and the United States started to create robots and spaceship to be sent into space to study the moon and other plants. On August 20, 1975, the United States launched the Viking equipped with the first space robot (Viking 01). Robotics further advanced from not only being used for expeditions or industrial prototypes, but as well in medicine. In 1998, Dr. David Gow created the first bionic arm called the Edinburgh Modular Arm System to allow disabled individuals to perform independent daily activities (Patel).
With more advancements that had occurred in science, Asimov created more stories such as “Lair!,” “Reason,” “Little Lost Robot,” etc. The robots in his stories also progressively became more advanced, and he also included sever voyages to different planets with these robots. He even went beyond his time era and mentioned humans living on other planets with Machines along their sides guiding their future. I believe that newer discoveries in robotics and space expeditions during Asimov’s time influenced each one of his robot stories, but one key aspect in Asimov’s stories was the ethics behind all these experiments.
Asimov’s whole book is based on the ethics behind robotics. He was the first person to create the three laws of robotics. The first robot Asimov talked about was Robbie.
“Robbie was constructed for one one purpose really-to be the companion of a little child. His entire ‘mentality’ has been created for the purpose.”
This quote reveals how Asimov believed ethically robots are created with a sole purpose and will do just so. He later went on discussing how Robbie will always uphold the three laws engraved into him further solidifying how ethically Robbie was created. When robots began to become more complicated and further advance, Asimov creates stories about robots that malfunctioned. For example, when

NS-2 Robot model

the First Law was not impression in the NS-2 model robots in the chapter “Little Lost Robot”, the robots lost the capability to protect humans as their number one priority. I believe the underlying message Asimov is trying to state is that you should not tamper with things far past their limits especially when the knowledge is no present. He was the first person to even come up with the idea of robots, but he knew some laws had to be created in order to keep things in line.

Asimov at his time was the father of science fiction novels publishing over a hundred sci-fi novels. He took his knowledge of current scientific discoveries into play when writing his books, but he also tried to predict the future in robotics. Asimov depicted his story in such way to reveal not only the different aspects of robotics and expeditions but also the key role of ethics (a.k.a. his three laws of robotics) in scientific experiments and discoveries.

A few interviews with Isaac Asimov that are worth watching.


Works Cited

Asimov, Isaac. I, robot. New York: Bantam Books, 1950. Print.

Garber, Steve . “Sputnik.” Sputnik. N.p., 10 Oct. 2007. Web. 30 June 2014. <http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/&gt;.

Gunn, James E.. Isaac Asimov, the foundations of science fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. Print.

“Isaac Asimov.” Isaac Asimov. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2014. <http://www.nndb.com/people/702/000023633/&gt;.

Patel, V. R., M. F. Chammas, and S. Shah. “Robotic assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy: a review of the current state of affairs.” International Journal of Clinical Practice 61.2 (2007): 309-314. Print.

“Viking 01.” Solar System Exploration. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 July 2014. <http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/profile.cfm?Sort=Alpha&Letter=V&Alias=Viking%2001&gt;.

“World Biography.” Isaac Asimov Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2014. <http://www.notablebiographies.com/An-Ba/Asimov-Isaac.html&gt;.

“World-Information.Org.” World-Information.Org. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 July 2014. <http://world-information.org/wio/infostructure/100437611663/100

A Space Odyssey Series

A Space Odyssey Series
Science fiction is unique in its ability to tell stories. While most other forms of fantasy and fiction allow for the discussion of human nature, philosophy and politics, only science fiction allows for the discussion of the interplay between them and science. A lot of modern science fiction coming out today is horrible, focusing on giant bugs or attack from obscure aliens with no clear motive or discussion of the technology being employed. In these stories, the aliens are no better than having a story based on elves or ghosts. Arthur C. Clarke, being aware of this, went out to create the “good science fiction movie” (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). From this he set out to write 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 was not a lone book though. Inspired by birth of the space age, Arthur C. Clarke went on to write 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three and finally 3001: The Final Odyssey. The focus of these books is on actually telling a story through the use of real science and what technologies might plausibly arise in the fifty years between when the book was written and the time the book was set in. It is the goal of this essay to show that, while the technology of 2001: A Space Odyssey may seem outlandish by even today’s standards, it is far from impossible.

In order to understand the novels, you much first understand the life of the author. Arthur C. Clarke was born on December 16, 1917 in England. “Following service as a radar instructor and technician with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War, he honed his scientific acumen working as an editor for the academic journal Physics Abstracts, while earning a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King’s College London” (Benford). With this highly technical background he had no problem understanding the scientific papers coming out around that time period. His expertise was so refined that “in 1945, he proposed the use of satellites in geostationary orbits as communications relays. Clarke never patented the idea, but promoted it ceaselessly” (Benford). Geostationary orbits have revolutionized modern communications and allowed for faster growth through the interconnected financial institutions of the world. Clarke died on March 19 2008.

Book Summary
In 1968, Clarke wrote the first book in the series 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book was a major success and with NASA further exploring the solar system during the next 14 years, other books had to follow. 2001: A Space Odyssey starts off with the evolution of man. A group of man-apes are existing in a cave but only just barley. Suddenly, a black monolith falls from the sky and over time teaches the man-apes hunting and tool use. It isn’t much but it’s enough to trigger an evolutionary response leading to Homo sapiens. The book then transitions to 2001 when a A painted image of four space-suited astronauts standing next to a piece of equipment atop a Lunar hill, in the distance is a Lunar base and a ball-shaped spacecraft descending toward it—with the earth hanging in a black sky in the background. Above the image appears "An epic drama of adventure and exploration" in blue block letters against a white background. Below the image in a black band, the title "2001: a space odyssey" appears in yellow block letters.magnetic anomaly is found in the Tyco crater (TMA 1). Upon TMA 1 being unearthed a signal is sent to the planet Saturn. For clarification, in the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey the plan was to make a trip to Saturn, however in the movie that changed the location to Jupiter because they did not feel they had the budget to do Saturn justice. All the other books in the series revolve around the plot of the movie. The bulk of the book involves the crew of the Discovery One flying to Saturn to try and determine what the signal was about. The two crew members, David Bowman and Frank Poole, were sent as an exploration team but with no knowledge of the alien aspect of the mission. The time span for this trip would have been hard for humans during an extended stay in a zero gravity environment. Because of they the characters were kept in a spinning dome capable of simulating moon gravity. The onboard computer, Hal 9000, was told to keep this information from them, which contradicted its ethical programing. This dilemma would be acceptable for a person but not for a purely logical machine. As such, Hal was driven insane and killed off the all of the crew but David. Once Hal was shot down, David continued the trip and, when met with another alien monolith (TMA 2), was uploaded as a “Star Child”.

In 2010: Odyssey Two another mission was sent to Jupiter. The Americans and Russians were ArthurCClarke 2010OdysseyTwo.jpgboth in a race to reach the ruins of Discovery One but its orbit was found to be decaying so Russia and the United States decided to team up in order to reach it in time. During the mission, China launched a bigger rocket in secret that was able to outpace Discover Two and make it to Jupiter a few weeks early. They landed on Europa, where they planed to use the water ice there as rocket fuel for the return trip. During that process, the Chinese ship was attacked by a large alien life form, confirming that life exists elsewhere in the solar system. Druing this time, the entity once known as David Bowman examines the planets in the solar system to see which ones harbor life. Once it is found that Europa is capable of harboring intelligent life but it unable to do so due to being completely frozen over, the decision is make to implode Jupiter and turn it into a second sun. The crew of the Discovery Two just made it out with their lives. At the very end of the book a message is sent to the people of Earth from TMA 2 which only states “All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there” (Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two).

In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd was taking a vacation on a new ship with a built in ion drive. The drive was fast enough that it can take the trip from Earth to any planet in the solar 2061OdysseyThree.jpgsystem within a matter of weeks. While on the vacation another ship crashed on Europa and became the first people to visit since we were warned away. Floyd’s ship was the only one with the power to get there and rescue them. In 3001: The Final Odyssey, the body of Frank Poole was found frozen in space and, with the extreme cold and dry conditions, was still preserved enough that the more advanced people in 3001 were able to bring him back to life. The story of a future is told from his perspective. At the end of the book, what use to be David Bowman showed back up with a message. The aliens that built the monolith saw what we were like in the 20th century and and decided that we were a danger. Bowman thought we were worth saving and planted a logic bomb into the monolith, keeping it from doing any harm.

Artificial Gravity
It’s a great story but what really drives it is how the development of technology is presented in the book. The first, and by far most recognizable, piece of technology is by far their artificial gravity. In most science fiction, artificial gravity is just something that works and is assumed to be done by technology that is just above and beyond anything we currently understand. Arthur C. Clark goes Discovery1b.JPGthe next step however in actually providing a mechanism by which gravity can be simulated. He was by no means the first to propose such an idea but he is the most famous as it was presented in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out at roughly the same time.
The idea can be simplified into something as simple as a yoyo. If you take the yoyo in one hand and begin to spin it in a circle off to the side you will be able to see the same physics at play. The yoyo is being tossed off to the side tangent to the circle. What is keeping it from being tossed away is the string, which is providing an inward acceleration given by (Tipler and Mosca)
This just provides the magnitude of the acceleration but it is always pointing towards the center of the rotation. This acceleration can be anything though depending on how fast you spin the object or how big of a circle you decided to spin the object in. Fortunately, the book provides a lot of information of the ship itself. While the whole ship doesn’t spin the dome in the front does. It was built with a diameter of 16.7m (54.8 ft) which translates to a radius of 8.35m (27.4 ft). (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ) At the same time, the gravity was kept at moon level because the moon seemed to be a good balance between the Earth’s gravity and the lack of gravity that would be presented in the rest of the ship (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). The moon has a constant gravitational acceleration of a=1.62 m/s^2 . From here we can rewrite the equation above to solve for the velocity at which discovery had to be spinning:
This means that the speed at which the dome had to of been spinning at is v=3.6 m/s (8 mph). This speed is not very fast at all and should be within the realm that could be realistically done if we ever decide to build a ship of this nature.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is one of the other most recognizable aspects of the story as well. The 2001: A Space Odyssey was famous for its depictions of the Hal 9000. During the trip to Saturn, only two people were left conscious. David worked one shift while Frank took the other. The shifts were 12 hours long so one would be coming on while the other was finishing his shift. Because most of their time was spent alone millions of miles away from civilization there was a concern over them being driven crazy by the isolation. As such Hal was put on not just as an on board computer but also as a second team member (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). This raises the question, however. Was Hal just a program that could simulate a human persona or was Hal a conscious being in his own right?HAL's camera eye

This question is not in itself new. In 1950, just 18 years before the book was written, Alan Turing was asking this very question. In his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence he proposed a test that could be used to determine if a machine was demonstrating true consciousness or if it was just acting out a program that was able to mimic a living being. What Turing proposed was to present a computer and a person to a judge. The participants would be shielded behind a curtain to keep the judges from being able to know which participant was which. The judge would then have a conversation with both the person and the computer. If the judge was unable to tell the difference between the two participants, then it would be said that the computer must hold some sort of consciousness. The computer would be said to pass the Turing test (Turing).

Surely creating a machine that is capable to passing the Turing test in impossible, right? Or at the very least, it is beyond what modern computer technology can do. This is a comforting thought as it keeps the robotic revolution in the realm of fiction. News came out, however, a few months ago that a computer was able to successfully pass the Turing test. This was a bit of a misnomer.

“I did get a chance to talk to Goostman, before the droves of people wanting to do the same crashed the servers. Despite Oz’s harsh critique (he tends to go a bit overboard), I have to truthfully report that he’s good. Far from perfect, but not bad. Goostman makes all the  mistakes the chatbots before him have made: he dodges questions, he changes the subject, he makes vague answers, he repeats things back to you in ways that no normal human does in a cute attempt to show that he’s listening, and of course he says really stupid stuff that doesn’t make any sense. Goostman’s creators explain his quirks away by giving him a fictional back story. See, Eugene is a 13-year-old Ukranian kid. He has favorite foods and a pet guinea pig, and he feels okay derailing important interrogations to tell you these things. I would have shot him as a replicant ages ago” (Naro).

What happened was that, of thirty judges, only ten were convinced that what they were talking to was an actual person and not a simulation. This may not be all that impressive, however Turing predicted this bench mark would happen around the year 2000, so it really wasn’t that far off. (Naro) While Hal was a fully functioning AI by the year 2001, this is something we still seem to have issues with. Even if we were able to come up with a computer able to pass the test, the question presented in 2001: A Space Odyssey and again in 2010: Odyssey Two still remains. When Hal was unplugged for the last time he asked a very pointed question, “will I dream Dave?” (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ) This is not a question a computer would normally ask nor would it really be something that a programmer would introduce during a shutdown process. The idea of dreaming is something unique to conscious beings and was the final hint that Hal was more then just a jumble of one’s and zero’s. Todays’ computers are nowhere near that advanced even though we are thirteen years beyond the era the book was trying to portray. This should not be taken as an argument against a true AI however. The idea of a computer passing the Turing test is still quite possible and in a few decades, may be considered commonplace.

Ion Drive
AI’s are considered to the among the pinnacles of technology, however, even they would have a hard time transversing interstellar space on anything other then a radio transmission. As such, in 2061 Odyssey Three, a new form of engine was introduced. When we think of most rockets, we picture either the space shuttle or one of the old rockets used in the Apollo program. Both of these systems used chemical fuel even once they made it into orbit around the Earth. A problem with this is that fuel is heavy, which requires more fuel to get it into orbit, which requires more fuel and so on.

Ion drives propose a solution for navigation once you get up into space. “Inert-gas ion thruster technology offers the greatest potential for providing high-specific-impulse, low-thrust, electric propulsion on large, earth-orbital spacecraft” (Poeshel). They work by propelling a very low density gas out of a thruster electronically. They are able to get the gas to extremely high velocities. The result is that each atom is able to provide a tremendous amount of thrust; however, since it is kept at a low density, the overall thrust is kept low. They also solve the propellant problem of chemical based rockets. Since they use electricity to ionize their propellant they don’t need to drag along quite as much fuel. They don’t have the thrust to escape Earth but are ideal for orbit corrections or bringing a probe up to a high velocity over a long period of time.
These are fine for probes and satellites however not so great for human travel to the outer planets. NASA states that the early ion drives “can be operated on xenon or argon propellant to produce 0.2 N of thrust at a specific impulse of 3000 sec with xenon propellant and at 6000 sec with argon propellant” (Poeshel). However in 1987 Arthur C. Clarke decided he needed to go faster. His ion drive was nothing special in and of itself. No technical specifications were ever given or any real mention of why it was better than all the others. What did make it special was its use of cold fusion. This may be comical by today’s standards since cold fusion is right up there with the philosopher’s stone however, at the time of publication, news of cold fusion was brand new.

Since cold fusion has been found to be impossible since the publication of the book, it is unlikely that any technology will ever be found that can emulate this rocket design in real life. Luck, as it would have it, is on the side of modern innovation. A company called Ad Astra Rocket Company has recently come out with a new rocket propulsion technology called the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). “In a VASIMR® engine, gas such as argon, xenon, or hydrogen is injected into a tube surrounded by a magnet and a series of two radio wave (RF) couplers. The couplers turn cold gas into superheated plasma and the rocket’s magnetic nozzle converts the plasma thermal motion into a directed jet” (Astra). The engine works in two stages; it becomes ionized by the RF waves and becomes “cold plasma”. Cold plasma is a bit of a misnomer however. The plasma in this stage is still roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun. This plasma is then sent to the “Ion Cyclotron Heating (ICH) section” (Astra). Here it is heated to roughly the same temperature as the core of the sun. Once the plasma is super-heated, it is expelled the way any regular propellant would be. “The rocket uses a magnetic nozzle to convert the ions orbital motion into useful linear momentum resulting in ion speeds on the order of 180,000 km/hr (112,000 mph)” (Astra).

The VASIMR engine has several advantages over traditional ion style engines. It can more easily vary its thrust, allowing it to be used more a wider range of missions without having to be drastically redesigned. Also, since the plasma is excited with RF waves, no engine parts have to come into direct contact with the hot plasma. As such the engine does not wear out as easily and can last longer. Another advantage to this technology is that it can easily be scaled up for larger payloads. This may be able to move past putting satellites into orbit and allow for us to more easily capture nearby asteroids or even possibly sending men to Mars as suggested in the book. The limit to all of this is power. While to book relied on cold fusion for its power supply something more will be needed for large scale projects. Solar power will still be useful for near Earth missions however for anything bigger something more akin to a mini nuclear reactor would be desired. (Astra)

Arthur C. Clarke was a revolutionary. Unlike a majority of modern science fiction writers he did not just use science as a convent plot device or as a useful tool for social commentary. He inspired a future generation to innovate for a better tomorrow. He envisioned a world capable of travel to the outer planets, using sentient computers and artificial gravity inhabited by man as well as aliens. Later, he introduced the idea of life on Europa and how aliens may intervene in their evolution in the same manner they did in ours. Later on, he used advances in propulsion technology to shrink the size of the solar system in much the same way the steam boat and telegraph did to ours. Finally, in 3001, he brings up the idea that as technology increases and we are able to spread out into the cosmos we will finally be able to get beyond our let go our selfish desire for war and live in a utopia. Arthur C. Clark was very much an optimist, but his vision of the future is not entirely impossible.

Works Cited
Astra. Astra -VASMIR. n.d. Web. 30 June 2014.
Benford, Gregory. “Obituary: Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008).” Nature (2008).
Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey . Penguin Group, 1968.
—. 2010: Odyssey Two. Random House Publishing Group, 1982.
—. 2061 Odysse Three. Random House Publishing Group, 1987.
—. 3001: The Final Odyssey. Del Rey, 1997.
Naro, Maki. Popular Science. 11 June 2014. Web. 30 June 2014.
Poeshel. “Development of Advanced Inert-Gas Ion Thrusters.” 1983.
Tipler, Paul and Gene Mosca. Physics for Scientist and Engineers. MPS, 2003.
Turing, Alan. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind (1950).

My Sister’s Keeper

Jasmine Denton
My Sister’s Keeper

By: Jodi Picoult

When you think of the expression, “My sister’s keeper” a general thought of an older sibling providing nurturing care to a younger sibling automatically comes into mind. A teenager that soothes their upset pre-teen sibling because the heart throb crush of the opposite sex does not share the same feelings, or the idea of an older sibling teaching the younger one the ways of life and proving encouraging words to influence good behavior in school, basically the general concept behind being a normal sibling. In the case of Anna and Kate Fitzgerald however this concept is out of the ordinary because Anna was born with the sole purpose of keeping her older sister Kate alive, “her sister’s keeper”. The book My Sister’s Keeper is a captivating novel that discusses moral conflict, family values, genetic makeup, designer babies, cancer and cancer treatment. This book by author Jodi Picoult is among the top best sellers because it discusses controversial topics such as stem cell research and designer babies in relation to a medical situation that will grab the reader and leave them searching through scholarly journals for more information on the science behind this book. Jodi Picoult did a great job with interesting the everyday reader while also involving science, medicine, and ethics. My Sister’s Keeper was used to raise the question of whether or not it is morally acceptable to create a life and use it to save another life, and also when if ever is it ok to subject someone to medical procedures against their will.

About the authorj
Jodi Lynn Picoult was born May 19, 1966 in Long island. She is an American author who has written numerous books featured on the New York Time’s, Best Sellers list. Jodi Picoult was interested in writing at a young age. When she was old enough to read and write she authored her first work known as “The lobster which Misunderstood”. (Journal) Jodi took her love for writing to college. Jodi attended Princeton where she majored in creative writing (picoult). While attending college she published work in Seventeen Magazine, and throughout college worked for a few companies as a writer to pay the bills (picoult). After College, Jodi began a career as a writer for Wall Street, a copywriter for an ad agency, and also as a middle school teacher. She then took her education to the next level and attended grad school to get a master’s degree in education at Harvard University (picoult). Jodi continued to write, and was later married to Tim Van Leer and started a family. A short time after she was married, Jodi published her first novel titled The Songs of a Humpback Whale in 1992, followed by several other novels that charted the top of the best sellers list. In later years Jodi Picoult was given several awards such as, The New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Book Browse Diamond Award for novel of the year, and even a lifetime achievement award (picoult). She has also been recognized for countless achievements for several other novels she has published. The work Jodi Picoult has done is inspiring to her fan base because it deals with so many interesting topics, and because of her skillful writing style. Jodi Picoult is an author, wife, mother, and a member of numerous charities (picoult). Jodi Picoult’s Novel My sister’s Keeper had so much success after it was published that it was made into a major motion film. My Sister’s Keeper the movie was released in 2009 (wikipedia). The film stared Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, and Joan Cusack. When the movie was released there were some major changes in the plot, but it was still a hit in the box office (wikipedia).


The story of My Sister’ Keepermy-sisters-keeper-lg
The Book is structured around the Fitzgerald Family. The members are parents, Sara and Brian. The kids are Jesse, Kate, and Anna. The book starts out with background information about the family and the issues they are all dealing with. Brian and Sara have a son named Jesse who is healthy as a young child. When he is a few years old he gets a new little sister named Kate. Unlike Jesse, Kate is not so lucky when it comes to health. When she is around the age of two she begins to get sick often, and Kate develops mysterious bruises. The parents take her to the doctor to get some test done. Sara and Brian find out that Kate has developed a serious illness, and is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The cancer is Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, APL for short (organization). APL is a rare form of leukemia, and it affects an estimated 1 in every 250,000 people (genetics home reference, the guide to understanding genetic conditions). APL is a cancer of the blood forming system due to a translocation of cells in the body. APL is diagnosed by blood testing. Symptoms of this cancer include abnormal bruising and bleeding, such as blood in the urine and nose bleeds (genetics home reference, the guide to understanding genetic conditions). The symptoms related to APL are exactly the symptoms Kate experienced in the novel. After Kate was diagnosed with APL the plan of treatment was discussed.
The first plan was to have the family tested to determine if there was a donor match to assist in the treatment of Kate. There were no matches, so chemotherapy radiation, and several other medications were the next plan of action. Over the course of a few years the treatments worked, but due to the rarity of this cancer a repeat in treatment proved to be ineffective. The family seemed to be running out of options, and then a doctor that specializes in genetics gave them a new option. The doctor basically told them that even though none of the current family members were matches for Kate, there could still be a chance that another member can be. The doctor told the family that the increase in genetic studies has provided information on designing babies. The family could consult with a geneticist and embryologist to produce a perfect donor match for their sick daughter Kate. With the help of fertility treatment and specialist the family was able to create Anna. Anna was born and immediately became a donor for her sister. She underwent extensive amounts of procedures to donate blood, bone marrow, and platelets to her sister. It isn’t until Anna turns 13 that she no longer wants to be a donor for her sister. Anna decides she does not want to be a donor any more when her parents suggest that she should donate one of her kidneys to her sister. A young girl giving up a kidney means giving up the possibility of ever having a normal life. Research has shown that a person can live a normal life with one kidney. However things that could potentially harm the remaining kidney must be eliminated, for example drinking alcoholic beverages and major contact sports. There is also a chance that the remaining kidney fails on its own and then that person has to begin Dialysis (john hopkins what kidney donors need to know). There are several other complications associated with kidney donation that can lead to a troubled life down the road, and as a result to that Anna decides she will file a lawsuit against her parents for medical emancipation.
A medically emancipated minor, is a person who is found suitable to make their own medical decisions in the court of law. The minor can consult with their parent or other guardian for advice, but the ultimate decision is up to the minor (minor rights vs parent right). Anna hires a lawyer by the name of Campbell Alexander to take on her case. The court appoints a third party person named Julia who is to help the court decide what is medically best for Anna. The case goes to trial, and the truth behind the lawsuit is revealed. Kate asked Anna to stop being a donor for her so she could die. Kate has no desire to go on fighting the battle against her cancer. The court ruled in Anna’s favor to emancipate her. After the trial is over, Anna is on her way to see her family at the hospital when she gets into a terrible car accident. The doctors pronounce her brain dead. Sara and Brian make the decision to take the kidney out of Anna and give it to Kate. The surgery is a success, and Kate goes on to live a life cancer free (Picoult, 2004).

The book as a film

The book was made into a film and there were some major changes. The characters were different; some that were in the book were not in the movie. The major difference would have to be the ending. In the book Anna dies tragically in a car accident. In the movie Kate dies after Anna is granted medical emancipation. The overall plot line was still very similar.


Science and medicine
Without science, there would be no medicine, and without medicine, there would not be a demand for continued scientific research. Science and medicine make up the never ending cycle of life improvement. As time progresses new research is done to find a faster more affective cure for everything. This book discusses genetics, anatomy and physiology, medical research, chemotherapy, and several other topics in science because it is important on getting the point of the book across, but how important are these topics in a real life situation?

Genetics is the study of genes. Geneticists study how traits are passed on from person to person. A person’s physical traits like eye color, hair color, and height are all things that can be determined with genetic studies. Inheritable diseases can also be found with the study of genetics (genes in life, genetics 101). Genetics was founded by Gregor Mendel in the early 1800’s. He performed an experiment with pea plants. The experiment provided information on the rules of heredity (deciphering the genetic code). Mendel used pea plants of different sizes and color and bred them. He found that when he bred certain plants together the plant would have characteristics of one of the plants. This finding gave way to the terms dominant and recessive gene traits (deciphering the genetic code). Genetics are used today to test for diseases like Down syndrome, cancer, Marfan syndrome, and several others. All of these diseases are inherited, and without the study of genetics information of these diseases would not exist (specific genetic disorders). A recent headline about the genetic disease Marfan syndrome was in the news. A young basketball player entering the 2014 NBA draft was diagnosed with having the gene that indicated Marfan syndrome.

Marfan syndrome and how it affects every day people


Stem cell research is another science discussed in this book. Stem cell research is a controversial topic because of how the stem cells are collected. Human stem cells have to be isolated from embryos (stem cell research ). This means that a person has to donate their embryos to science, and that is an ethical issue for some people because it can be considered as killing a life. This is because tissue from a fetus is collected. The fetus will most likely never be brought to term because it is for scientific study, so that can be considered as murder. Despite the ethical issue of stem cell research it has proved to be beneficial because so many different tests can be performed with them (stem cell research ). Stem cells have the ability to regenerate into several different things. A form of stem cells can be isolated from bone marrow and injected into another person to help their blood cells regenerate new blood cells. This is brought up in the book, when Anna was born the doctor took blood from the umbilical cord and used it to inject into Kate to help boost the creation of more blood cells and platelets. Anna also underwent bone marrow aspirations to collect bone marrow to donate to Kate (Picoult, 2004). Bone marrow aspiration and umbilical cord blood are examples of stem cell research because they are stem cells, and they were taken out of one person, and injected into another in hopes of improving a medical condition. After the injection the stem cells were able to repair tissue and regenerate as new tissue (stem cell research ). This put Kate into remission. Without research on stem cells, the doctors would have not known to try this as a form of cancer treatment. Stem cell research will benefit in the long run because it has the potential to help the medical field find out how a person got a certain disease, and then find out how to fix the problem, and cure the patient (stem cell research ).
Designing babies is also a form of science discussed in this book. Designing babies with specific genetic traits is a thing now, but is it moral. The scientific term for designing babies is called “The Principle of Procreative beneficence”; it discusses the rights a parent has to select a baby with the best expected outcome. (SAVULESCU, 2009) This is a complicated process but it can happen. Generally it is not used to pick out a baby that can grow up to be the best looking person in the world, it should be used to select a baby that is maybe predisposed to a genetic disorder, but may have the chance of not having the issue (SAVULESCU, 2009). Go to http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00687.x/full and read the article about designer babies.
Science is all around and it influences a lot of daily activity. The Book my Sister’s keeper is a book that discusses science in relation to medicine, while also throwing a mixture of ethical issues in as well. Without the science research we have today, we will not be able to find a cure for diseases of tomorrow. Science and medicine go hand in hand, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Works Cited
bone marrow and sickle cell. (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from science news: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bone-marrow-transplant-could-reverse-sickle-cell-adults
deciphering the genetic code. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2014, from office of NIH history: http://history.nih.gov/exhibits/nirenberg/HS1_mendel.htm
genes in life, genetics 101. (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from Genes.org: http://www.genesinlife.org/genetics-101
genetics home reference, the guide to understanding genetic conditions. (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from genetics home reference: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/acute-promyelocytic-leukemia
john hopkins what kidney donors need to know. (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from john hopkins: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/transplant/news_events/media/transcripts/kidney_pancreas/what_kidney_donors_need_to_know.html
Journal, W. (n.d.). Wikipedia on jodi picoult. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jodi_Picoult
minor rights vs parent right. (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from medscape: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/456472_5
Oransky, I. (2004). Books: born with a mission. The Lancet, 1743.
organization, C. (n.d.). Cancer.gov. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from APL cancer organization: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/childAML/HealthProfessional/page7
Picoult, J. (2004). My sister’s Keeper. New York City, New York: A division of Simon and Schuster.
picoult, J. (n.d.). Jodi Picoult. Retrieved july 2, 2014, from Jodi picoult.com: http://www.jodipicoult.com/JodiPicoult.html
SAVULESCU, J. a. (2009). the moral obligation. Retrieved july 2, 2014, from wiley online library: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00687.x/full
specific genetic disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from http://www.genome.gov/10001204
stem cell research . (n.d.). Retrieved july 2, 2014, from national institute of health: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx
wikipedia. (n.d.). wikipedia film my sisters keeper. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Sister%27s_Keeper_(film)

Calculating God

Who is God? What is God? Is there a God? Is God an entity who not only created the world, but is also an active participant as religions would like us to believe? Can God be determined through the study of science and mathematics, or do the atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Sigmund Freud have the right answer? These are just a few of the questions brought up in Robert J Sawyer’s 2000 book Calculating God.Calculating God A book described by the Toronto Star Newspaper as a “highly philosophical, theological and ethical story,” (R. J. Sawyer, Interview with Robert Sawyer 2010). Calculating God explores these questions and provides scientific reasons to support the theory of intelligent design.

Calculating God is rightly classified as a science fiction because the story revolves around an alien landing near a museum and wanting to study earth’s paleontological history. It could also be classified as a work of science-based philosophical fiction, as many of the discussions between the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Thomas Jericho and the alien Hollus are a debate about the existence of a God.

The Royal Ontario Museum

Is God a creator who designed the universe or does the universe just exist? The life-long atheist Jericho can’t believe that a fellow scientist, albeit an alien one, believes in the notion of intelligent design, and is again stunned to discover the second alien species brought by Hollus’s people are also believers. This stunned feeling is reciprocated by the aliens because of Jericho’s lack of belief, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 34)

Sawyer uses the back and fourth between the humans and the aliens to argue the theories of Darwin, the big bang, DNA, the anthropic principal, and many of the fundamental scientific constants to provoke the reader into thinking about the design of the universe. For example this exchange on page 61:

‘How do you know,’ I said to him, ‘that the universe had a creator?, Hollus’s eyestalks curved to look at me. ‘The universe was clearly designed; if it had a design, it must therefore have a designer.’ (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 61)

And Sawyer himself said of the book in a 2010 interview with Philosophy Now Magazine “if the designer did exist though, he was a scientist, pure and simple,” (R. J. Sawyer, Interview with Robert Sawyer 2010). It is with this quote in mind, the reader gets to think about the science of the world with a different view than is often given in other scientific approaches to explaining the history of the world.

Biography of Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction writer of 21 published novels and other short stories. He is an award winning writer, and according to his biography on his website is also “the only writer in history to win the top science fiction awards in the United States, China, Japan, France, and Spain,” (R. J. Sawyer, Short Bio n.d.).

Calculating God Summary

Calculating God is the story of an alien named Hollus who arrives one day at the ROM in Toronto asking to work with a paleontologist about the earth’s five mass extinctions and their effects on the Earth’s evolution. Hollus’s landing changes the life and work of the books protagonist Thomas Jericho, a ROM paleontologist who just discovered that he is dying of lung cancer.

Jericho is surprised by the alien’s mastery of the English language, as Hollus tells Jericho she is from “the third planet of the star you call Beta Hydri,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 25). Beta Hydri

The Hydrus Constellation

is a star approximately 24.3 light years away from earth and the brightest star in the Hydrus constellation, (Wikipedia Beta Hydri n.d.). This galaxy is the ninth star system she and those traveling with her have visited, and the third with intelligent life on it. She tells the staff at the ROM she has arrived with 33 other scientists, half of whom are Forhilnors (Hollus’s race) and the other half are Wreeds, another intelligent alien spices from the second planet of star Delta Pavonis.

The Pavo Constellation

Delta Pavonis is located in the constellation Pavo, and is roughly 20 light years away from earth, (Wikipedia Delta Pavonis n.d.).

Upon her arrival to the museum, Hollus asks to be treated as a normal visiting scholar and have access to the museum’s fossils and specimens in exchange for data about the aliens and their knowledge of the universe. The unexpected arrival of an alien triggers the museum, government and media to come together to learn more about the Hollus and her intentions. After the initial shock and media spectacle dies down, the two begin discussing the extinctions and working together. The interest in the five mass extinctions is due to the fact that five similar extinctions occurred at roughly the same time on both the Beta Hydri and Delta Pavonis planets. For Hollus, the study of the fossils and the earth’s history as well as their study of the Wreeds helps her and her people to better understand the history of their planet and the universe, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 28-33).

A drawing of Hollus and Thomas Jericho

Hollus is described as looking similar to a large spider with six legs and two arms. “His torso was no bigger around than the circle I could make with my arms…[it] was covered by a long strip of blue cloth. But his hide was visible on the six legs and two arms. It looked a bit like bubble wrap, although the individual domes were of varying sizes,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 23). Jericho determines that Hollus is endothermic, similar to mammals on earth; he also mistakenly identifies the alien as a male and is not until much later in the book Jericho finds out that Hollus is a female.

During their work together at the museum the two learn that despite the differences in appearance and planets, they are both made up of similar DNA structures. It is also explained by Hollus that all three planets have roughly the same technological advances, give or take a few decades, and the same basic life needs. To both the Forhilnors and the Wreeds, this is one of the indications of intelligent design, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 85).

Although much of the book is a dialog between Hollus and Jericho about science and God, there are other subplots supporting the main themes. Jericho’s struggle with his terminal illness, and how it impacts both his family life and work. He is challenged to think about how God, if being real, could give him (and others) suffering and pain. Does God take an active part, a puppet master perhaps, in the ways of the world? The answer from the Forhilnors and the Wreeds is that God is merely the creator; not the God of religion and there to listen and answer prayers. However, they argue that God did play a role in the mass extinctions and paved the way for intelligent life to come about on all three planets.

An example of a space ship traveling at the speed of light

Near the end of the book, the Earth and the alien’s planets face a possible sixth extinction; the universe is threatened by a star going supernova. Something intervenes, and destruction is averted. After what the aliens and Jericho believe was the earth’s salvation by God, Jericho accepts an offer from Hollus to travel with them to the creator’s known location. Instead of spending his last days on earth suffering, he is cryogenically frozen for space-travel by the aliens and they embark upon a journey to find God. The last chapter of the book is the aliens and Jericho meeting and communicating, though in an unlikely way, with God.

Intelligent Design and Calculating God

There is a great deal of science discussed in Calculating God. Sawyer uses the five fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and (according to Sawyer) the yet undiscovered repulsive fifth force to disavow the random nature of life and to promote the idea of a creator, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 72). Though Jericho remains skeptical, Hollus argues, “there is no indisputable proof for the big bang and there is none for evolution. And yet you accept those. Why hold the question of whether there is a creator to a higher standard,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 101).

Hollus explains on pages 62-64 that if gravity was just different by just a few orders of magnitude on each side that the earth would have either never been created or collapsed under the extra gravitational weight.

Gravity acting on a star

Another example is that of the balance between gravitational and electromagnetism for the creation and balance of stars. According to Hollus, there aren’t many ways to do this mathematically and if their gravitational strength was different by one in 1040 that no yellow suns could exist in the universe (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 62). He continues with the example that if the nuclear forces which hold the atoms nuclei together was just slightly smaller, the protons would not allow for atoms to exist. If larger, only the hydrogen element would be formed.

This argument is similar to what is now known as the weak anthropic principal (WAP), which was introduced in Poland at the 500-year celebration of Copernicus’ birthday (Physics SFSU n.d.). The principal was presented by Brandon Carter,

Brandon Carter

the Australian theoretical physicist, and it’s underlying theory was that “humanity did indeed hold a special place in the Universe,” (Physics SFSU n.d.). It follows the works of the early Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, who argued for the case of a designer or creator because of the complexities of man. These early men when they made the illustration for intelligent design, did not do so with the notion of the Juedo-Christian God, a feeling that both the Wreeds and the Forhilnors agree with.

The weak anthropic principal also follows along with William Paley and his analogy of the eye and the telescope which was summed up as, “the eye is like a telescope; telescopes have telescope makers; therefore eyes must have eye makers,” (Ruse 2006). As it is now defined, the WAP states:

The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on the values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the universe be old enough for it to have already done so. (Physics SFSU n.d.)

Another scientific argument for the idea of a creator is based on water. Hollus in the book talks about the importance of water because unlike most compounds; water does not contract when it cools and again does not expand when it is heated, but the opposite. If it acted differently, ice could not float because it would be denser as a solid. If ice can’t float then the oceans would freeze solid, and as Hollus explains, no life would be able to live in the ocean and the underwater currents would not give way to spring thawing, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 68). These properties are explained in greater detail by the University of Idaho’s Ground Water Hydrology website, which agrees with the logic in Calculating God about the opposite thermal property of water, “the importance of this property cannot be overemphasized for its role on the ecosystem of earth,” (University of Idaho n.d.).

Through Hollus, Sawyer also uses evolution and DNA to make the case for intelligent design. The scientists in the book take samples of both Hollus and the Wreeds blood for a DNA test, and they are surprised to find how similar they are to human DNA. Upon learning this, Jericho tells Hollus that the geneticist “was expecting something more – well alien,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 97). But if the same designer created all of the life forms, not just those of earth, Hollus explained it made sense to have similar genetic code.

A drawing of DNA

When looking into DNA, there are only four letters A, C, G, and T that make up the sequences of nucleotides. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s Design Arguments for the Existence of God, there are four possibilities “for origin of biological information. (1) chance; (2) a pre-biotic form of natural selection; (3) chemical necessity; and (4) intelligent design,” (Himma n.d.). The author, Kenneth Himma argues that intelligent design is most likely because it “is logically possible to obtain functioning sequences of amino acids through purely random processes, some researchers have estimated the probability of doing so under the most favorable of assumptions at approximately 1 in 1065.” While Jericho is thinking about DNA in relation to cancer and his conversations with Hollus, the reader is given arguments on the precision of the DNA code and the arguments for this being a creator, (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 167-170).

Throughout the many scientific arguments in the book, the reader as well as Thomas Jericho can argue that this is just one large coincidence, yet Hollus counters with, “It’s either coincidence piled on top of coincidence or it is a deliberate design,” (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 67).


While the bulk of the science in this book are based around the questions of God and intelligent design, not all of the science is about that. Calculating God is full of classic science fiction ideas, including aliens, space travel, cryogenic freezing, and fusion powered space ships.

An artist’s drawing of Hollus

For many readers, the assumption that we are not alone in the universe is not a large step from their imaginations, but an alien showing up in Toronto has not yet happened in the history of science or the earth. Also the technology used to power the Forhilnor’s ship is clearly Sawyer’s inventiveness at work.

However, it is the compelling arguments about intelligent design that provoke the reader to contemplate how science and God can move together. Sawyer himself has stated about the book that, “the science is carefully researched, and as we travel through the plot we explore issues in evolutionary biology, cosmology, quantum physics, astronomy, and biochemistry” (R. J. Sawyer, On Writing Calculating God 2000). His research is clear with the in-depth arguments made by Hollus about the nature of the universe and life as we know it.

The arguments made by Hollus for God do not give the reader the impression that the God of this book is the God of religion; but however, the God of the beginning of the universe. “Look, I’m not a mystic. I believe in God because it makes scientific sense for me to do so; indeed, I suspect God exists in this universe because of science, “ (R. J. Sawyer 2000, 98).

Adam and the Creator

Works Cited

Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Design Arguments for the Existence of God.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Physics SFSU . The Anthropic Principal. http://www.physics.sfsu.edu/~lwilliam/sota/anth/anthropic_principle_index.html (accessed July 2, 2014).

Ruse, Michael. Religion and the Biological Sciences. Vol. 2, in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Donald M. Borchert, 393-397. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006.

Sawyer, Robert J, interview by Nick DiChario. Interview with Robert Sawyer Philosophy Now Magazine Issue 80, (Aug/Sep 2010).

—. On Writing Calculating God. 2000. http://www.sfwriter.com/cgbn.htm (accessed July 2, 2014).

Sawyer, Robert J. Calculating God. Edited by David G Hartwell. New York, NY: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2000.

University of Idaho. Water. http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/geol309/new_page_4.htm (accessed July 2, 2014).

Wikipedia Beta Hydri. Beta Hydri. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_Hydri (accessed July 2, 2104).

Wikipedia Delta Pavonis. Delta Pavonis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_Pavonis (accessed July 2, 2014).

Hot, Crowded Earth: Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel “Make Room! Make Room!”

I chose to read Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! because I find its dystopian view of population growth and the impact of human activities on the world rather interesting, and indeed somewhat depressing. I think the book is relevent to this class Make_Room!_Make_Room!because we’ve been talking about Malthusianism and about global warming and environmental harm, and this book shows one possible outcome if we aren’t careful about how we live our lives on this planet. It also details the society born from a dense, resource-deprived population, which isn’t really an example of Social Darwinism, but perhaps a look into psychology, which we’ve only briefly touched on.


About the Author:
Harry Harrison was born on March 12th, 1925, in the town of Stamford, Connecticut. He eventually made his way to New York City, 3_Harry Harrisonspecifically Queens, where he grew up.(1) After getting out of high school, he was drafted into the military where he “worked on secret military computers, as an armourer and gunnery instructor, and finally – promoted to sergeant – became a Military Policeman”.(2) His service left him with a hatred for the military and war.
In one interview, Harrison said he was inspired to write the book from reading a number of scientific journals, and doing a bit of research on his own about population growth and resources.(3) In another, he says this: “The idea came from an Indian I met after the war, in 1946. He told me, ‘Overpopulation is the big problem coming up in the world’ (nobody had ever heard of it in those days) and he said ‘Want to make a lot of money, Harry? You have to import rubber contraceptives to India.’”(4) The setting of the book is in 1999 because it was still fairly close to the time in which he wrote the book, enough so that it was believable. One of the characters in the book, Soloman Kahn, had a birthdate and military life similar to Harrison’s, but the character was not meant to be a reflection of him.


Book Summary:
The book takes place in a dystopian future in New York City, year 1999. In this future, the world population has skyrocketed, resources are scarce, and the world is heavily polluted and hot, with little water make_room_make_room.largeto go around.
The story starts off from the viewpoint of a police investigator, Andy Rusch. It chronicles his day beating back the crowd in the streets, and breaking up a stampede on a store that had a sale on “soylent steaks”, which are rare and highly sought after among the poor. Once that is broken up we got to the point-of-view of a kid named Billy Chung, who managed to make off with a box of soylent steaks in the confusion. After he finds a place to hide and eats his share of them, he decides to sell the rest so that he can pay his way into a job delivering telegrams.
It is during Billy’s first delivery that we meet another couple of important characters in the story, Michael O’Brien, and his girlfriend, Shirl Greene. These two live among the rich in a closed-off community, and it is when Billy goes in and notices much of the security is disabled that he gets the idea to rob the place.
The robbery goes wrong when Mr. O’Brien walks in on Billy searching through a jewelry box, and attacks. Billy fights back by striking O’Brien across the head with the tire iron he used to break in, and the blow ends up killing O’Brien. It is O’Brien’s death that sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Andy gets stuck with the task of investigating O’Brien’s death, and during the investigation, he developes a relationship with O’Brien’s “girlfriend” (really, something similar to a concubine, the prettier women were bought and sold like furniture), Shirl Greene. Since Greene has no place to go and has a contract permitting her to continue living in O’Brien’s suite until the contract ends, the two end up living together in opulence for a month.

After the month is up, Shirl moves in with Andy and his roommate, Soloman Kahn, much to Shirl’s dismay since she had gotten used to a life of luxury. Andy remains obsessed with solving the murder case and hunting down Billy Chung, while his roommate Soloman becomes involved in protests against the overturning of a bill to implement population control by limiting birth rates. Soloman eventually grows sick from the stress and dies, and after he does, an entire family moves in to replace him, which gets on both Shirl and Andy’s nerves, and Shirl leaves and goes back into her life as a concubine. Andy eventually hunts Billy down and accidentally kills him, causing him to get demoted, and the book ends with the US population hitting a record high 344 million citizens at the century’s end.(5)

Comparison with Movie:
Make Room! Make Room! was adapted into the movie Soylent GreenSoylent_green, which came out in 1973. The movie parallels the book pretty closely, just with different names for the characters, the murder victim being changed from a malicious businessman in the book to a kind soul in the movie, and a twist ending in the movie. Whereas the book has a rather unexciting ending, the movie leads on to the investigator doing some research about the victim’s past associations, finds he was associated with the company that makes Soylent products, and goes to investigate the company. He finds out a rather gruesome fact: Human corpses are used to make their Soylent Green product, and the movie just ends with him screaming “Soylent Green is people!” while being carried off.


Science behind the book and why it’s relevent:
While it is obvious at this point that the future chronicled in the book hasn’t come to pass and probably won’t for quite some time if it ever does happen, there are some things documented in the book that either are currently happening, or have some basis in scientific research and Malthusianism stating how those things could happen.

I’ll first talk about something we aren’t really seeing, and that is this idea that the population explodes to the point of their not being enough room and nowhere near enough resources for everyone. We have discussed a few times in class the concept of Malthusianism, a concept first proposed by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, which basically states that population growth is exponential, whereas the availability of resources is arithmetical, meaning that at some point population growth exceeds the availability of resources and the population begins to die off until it reaches sustainable levels again.

While it is certainly true that the population is growing at an exponential rate, that rate has steadily been decreasing in recent years, as we can clearly see in our handy graph from the US Census Bureau:


The book also mentions the idea of trying to limit population growth through government policy, which I think is again linked back to Malthusianism, in that it is assumed that reducing the population will restore the balance of resources to population size so there are enough to go around. It just so happens this is exactly what China has been doing in the real world for quite some time with its one-child policy, since China too struggles to get enough resources to feed its population. Since this policy has been enforced since around 1980, we can already see some of its effects: Because of chinese cultural preference for males, there is now a higher percentage of males in china than in the rest of the world; the ratio of males to females was at 1.17 as of 2001, compared to a ratio of 1.03 to 1.07 for the rest of the industrialized world. A particularly concerning consequence however, is that the average age of chinese citizens is going up since they aren’t having enough children to replace themselves, and this ever-increasing group of older citizens needs the smaller group of younger citizens to support it, which places a huge burden on the young.(6) China still has problems with food supply and, particularly, water supply despite the policy.(7)Water-Pollution-in-China


I’d also like to discuss the psychological effect living in a huge population can have, although I don’t think it really pertains to anything we’ve discussed in class, except perhaps to a very small extent, Social Darwinism. In the book, we see the population riddled with crime, with a low value on human life, and with heavy segregation of the rich from the poor (they literally walled themselves in). A long time ago, I found an interesting video describing a study done by Dr. John B. Calhoun on a population of mice. They were placed in a “utopian” environment, where they had no natural predators, and unlimited access to food and water, and were just allowed to grow in population size boundlessly.

In the beginning, everything goes as expected in the experiment: the mice define their territorial boundaries and begin to reproduce at an exponential rate. However, after a while, the crowded mice began to fight constantly, and population began to level off, and different classes of mice began to develop. There were certain mice who always got into fights, who had chewed-up tails and tended not to live very long. There were mice that were always picked on. Then there were “the beautiful ones”, which were physically perfect, but had withdrawn from society and spent their time eating and grooming rather than breeding and interacting with other mice. Eventually, the society becomes completely dysfunctional, and the population plummets until eventually dies off completely.

Calhoun suggests that this is an example of what will eventually happen to human society if we keep on breeding without bound, in fact, we could already be in the middle of it, with our declining population growth.(8)000


The book doesn’t explicitly single out the topic of global warming, but it is sort of implied that it has happened in the book’s fictional world. In the book, we see extremely high temperatures, even in August, which would seem to suggest some sort of global warming has taken place. This is one of the things from the book that we can actually see happening in real life, albeit not (yet) to the extent described in the book.  Before the book was written, even, we already had the dust bowl, where we outstripped our land’s resources and suffered from it.


We learned in class that the possibility of global warming due to our CO2 emissions has been known about since 1896 when Svante Arrhenius first realized it, and it is likely that Harrison was familiar with the idea as well, especially considering that the President Lyndon Johnson had spoken about the issue the year before the book was first published. Also, by the late 80’s at least, we knew that climate change is taking place, and by now we have quite a bit of data on it, so 1999 was a pretty reasonable date for the book’s setting in that regard.(9)


I think that, although the book was way off on its description of world population and climate from the actuality of the world in 1999, it still hits close to home on a couple of points. It accurately assessed that the world would heat up, the violence and mob mentality in the book is reflected to some extent in experiments on animal populations, and the measure of population control has already been implemented in China at least, even though the world’s population is on the decline and it really doesn’t seem to be necessary at this point. I think, if we were to go along the road to limitless population growth and limitless consumption, the story could very well become a reality.


Works Cited:

  1. Tomlinson, Paul. “Harry Harrison – A Brief Biography,” 2009. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/bio.htm.
  2. ———. “Who Is Harry Harrison?,” July 1999. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/aboutwho.htm.
  3. Harry Harrison Interview. Interview by Paul Tomlinson, 1985. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/n07.htm.
  4. “Harry Harrison: When the World Was Young.” Locus Magazine, March 2006. http://www.locusmag.com/2006/Issues/03Harrison.html.
  5. Harrison, Harry. Make Room! Make Room! New York: Orb, 2008.
  6. Hesketh, Therese, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years. Health Policy Report. The New England Journal of Medicine, September 15, 2005. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr051833.
  7. Jun, Ma, and Naomi Li. “Tackling China’s Water Crisis Online,” September 21, 2006. https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/392-Tackling-China-s-water-crisis-online.
  8. Calhoun, John. Population Density and Social Pathology. National Institute of Mental Health, November 1970. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1501789/pdf/califmed00143-0080.pdf.
  9. “Climate Research Unit: Data,” n.d. http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/.


Nihon Chinbotsu / Japan Sinks

“I have but one more question for you. For a scientist, what is the most precious thing?” “Intuition,” answered Tadokoro without hesitation. “Mmm?” The old man cupped his hand to his ear. “What is it?” “I said intuition sir,” said Tadokoro. “You may think it’s strange, but for a scientist – especially for a natural scientist – far and away the most precious gift he can possess is that of keen intuition. Without it, he’ll never make a notable break-through.” (Komatsu 51)


The intuition is the accident that is happening in the Japanese archipelago. Geophysicist, Dr. Yusuke Tadokoro sets to embark on research. Tadokoro and his team of researchers come to discover a strange flow and crack running through the ocean floor. Tadokoro was convinced with his hypothesis and continues to collect data. They came to a conclusion of one. That was within two years, in the worst case, most of the Japanese archipelago will sink beneath the surface of the sea.

Mr. Komatsu’s premise in “Japan Sinks” was that the tectonic plates that grind beneath the Japanese archipelago undergo a sudden colossal shift, setting off a chain reaction of volcanoes that spew torrents of lava, tsunamis that inundate cities, earthquakes that shatter the countryside and the deaths of millions of people. (New York Times, 2011)

"Nihon Chinbotsu"
“Nihon Chinbotsu”

Japan Sinks was written in 1973 by Sakyo Komatsu and then later translated by Michael Gallangher in 1976 and published in the United States.


小松左京, Sakyo Komatsu
小松左京, Sakyo Komatsu

Sakyo Komatsu was born in Osaka in 1931, and attended Kyoto University where he studied Italian literature. After college, he was involved in writing for magazines and doing work for stand-up comedy acts. He began his true writing career in the 1960’s and his most popular works outside of Japan are Japan Sinks and Sayonara Jupiter. Both of which have been turned into various forms of comics and movies.  In 2011 on July 26th, Komatsu passed away at the age of 80 years old from pneumonia in Osaka.


Book Summary

Japan_sinks_novelJapan Sinks starts off with the account of a small island sinking overnight. There was a fishing boat anchored at this island in the northeast part of the Ogasawara chain for the night, the fishermen woke the next morning to find themselves in the middle of an empty sea.

While still not totally sure what to think of the recent findings, massive earthquake and volcanic eruptions soon become more frequent throughout Japan.After this is reported, the Japanese Weather Service sends a vessel to investigate. Onodera, the engineer who pilots the deep-sea submarine, and Dr. Tadokoro set out to scan the sea floor near the sunken island. They find that the island had indeed sunk overnight.

Upon help from the Japanese government, further research, and with the disaster situation worsening, Tadokoro warns that the Japanese archipelago may sink to the ocean floor. This information is kept as top-secret as further research and planning goes on to avoid public chaos. img3_1152461986As events become even more intense nationwide, a plan to evacuate all of the Japanese people to other countries begins.

A plan known as “plan D” is formed, top scientists and government officials are assigned to this plan to continue research. Their findings revealed that due to a change of mantle convection around the Japan Trench, the Japanese archipelago will sink into the sea in about two years at the earliest. As time passed, further research revealed that there was only less than one year left before all was lost.日本 沈没

Talks continued to go on between nations such as Australia, China, Russia, Africa, and the United States to accept Japanese citizens as refugees. Suspicion throughout the international community began to rise, Japanese bonds were being sold out, which started to leave Japan feeling helpless and abandoned.

Japan eventually becomes submerged in the sea while still being torn from East to West. img4_1152461986The some 70 million Japanese that were fortunate to evacuate, had become a “wandering people” scattered all over the world.The Japanese citizens had great trust in their government and complied with evacuation procedures even though they were not completely aware of the situation. Throughout all of this, more earthquakes and volcanic eruptions continued violently, killing millions.

Plate Tectonics


Vibration and Movement

There are plates of varying sizes that make up the Earth’s surface. The six pieces of the large-scale plates; their names are derived from the name of the continent, such as “North American plate”, “Africa plate”, and “Antarctic plate”.

Map of Plate Boundaries
Map of Plate Boundaries, click HERE FOR INTERACTIVE MAP

Some plates may be small in size when compared to others, but in terms of shaping the earth they are very important in the same way. Juan de Fuca plate is also a minimal one, but the impact of volcanoes that dot the Pacific Ocean America Northwest Coast are numerous.

A plate constitutes the outer shell of the earth called the  lithosphere. The lithosphere, is the top of the mantle and crust, and the like. Convection lava in the lower layer and turbulence, will force the plate to move like a conveyor belt. Most of the geological activity is due to the interaction of these plates or separate collisions of broken plates.

Boundaries of geological structures can be divided into three types by the motion of the plate. It is three types of transformations that will cause a strike-slip plate while interacting and diverging, When this happens the plates are gradually divided.

Artist's cross section illustrating the main types of plate boundaries
Artist’s cross-section illustrating the main types of plate boundaries


Convergent boundary

This is where the plate is a landmass between the collision. This boundary is formed by the mountain ranges of the myriad of wrinkles that could be in the crust. Asia and India collided together about 55 million years ago, it was pushed slowly and formed the Himalayan mountain system which is  the highest on Earth. Such squashing continues, forcing mountains to rise even higher accordingly. Everest, may become higher tomorrow than it is today.

Convergent Boundary
Convergent Boundary

Convergent boundary occurs at the place when it dives beneath the continental plate in a process that involves the oceanic plate, known as subduction. Thereby, the upper plate is lifted , and mountains are formed there as well. In addition, there are also occasions when the plate of concern slips and melts, and it ends up becoming a spewing volcanic eruption. For example, some of the Andes mountains in South America were so formed.

The convergence between the oceanic plate, the plate of one dives beneath the other plate, deep trenches such as the Mariana Trench which is the deepest North Pacific Ocean is formed on the planet most of the time. The collision of this type may have enacted underwater volcanoes that are thought to have made up the island arc like Japan.

  • Learn about the tectonic similarities between Japan and the Pacific Northwest U.S. in this interactive animation.

Divergent boundary

In the divergent boundary of the ocean, magma has risen to the surface from deep in the Earth’s mantle. Mountains and volcanoes occur along this seam. The shape of the seabed changes by this process, a huge basin to expand. This mid-ocean ridge system of one connects the world’s oceans, the ridge is known to be the world’s longest mountain range.

Divergent Boundary
Divergent Boundary

Where the plate is pulled in opposite directions of each other on the ground, a huge rift Great Rift Valley (such as the Great Rift Valley of Africa) is formed. The plate continues its separation as it is, this shows how that East Africa is separated from the continent several million years later and a new land mass was formed. The boundary between the plates at that time were a mid-ocean ridge.

Transform type boundary

The San Andreas Fault in California,  is a typical example of a transform boundary type. You are rubbing  two plates along a strike-slip fault. This spectacular terrain such as mountains and oceans are not born at the boundary like this, but it is caused by a major earthquake triggered by irregular movement in most cases.

Transform Boundary
Transform Boundary

The earthquake of 1906 that devastated San Francisco is one example.



Mantle convection

Mantle, is made up of solid stone; hard in the sense day-to-day. However, (hereinafter referred to as the rheology field to study the mysterious nature of such materials) it behaves like a fluid like when viewed over a long period of time.

Mantle Convection
Mantle Convection

It is believed to release the extraterrestrial heat of the earth’s interior and the cooling heat of the core. With the heat generation in the mantle, convection starts at a slow rate. Originally mantle convection is what receives the continental drift theory of Wegener and Holmes of the United Kingdom and has been proposed as a driving force for continental drift. At present, it is not considered to be caused by mantle convection and it is compatible and just plain plate motion. However, it is important to rule that the convection is present in the mantle, and with the various geological phenomena occurring within the mantle, including the Earth’s surface, there is no doubt that it is a process that exists. Research has been actively conducting experiments and numerical simulations to prove this. One way to demonstrate the progress of the study the earth’s internal structure would be to consider an earthquake wave (mantle tomography), the convective motion is what is happening and is what has been brought to light in recent years.

How Shifting Plates Caused the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan



Deep Sea Submarines

In a deep-sea submarine, there is a spherical pressure hull. High-strength steel has been used previously for the hull, but titanium has mainly been used since the 1980’s. Power is supplied from batteries, which in recent years are lithium batteries.


These vessels are usually equipped with different forms of cameras, robotic arms, according to the purpose of its use. It is possible to send images and sounds to the mother ship with ultrasound, but there is a limit to the transmission capacity band. Compared to past compression techniques, they may have improved to some extent in recent years, but still the problem is not completely solved. In recent years, the motor is a mainstream AC induction motor. With discharge characteristics that are excellent even at low temperatures, for long life cycles that contribute to cost reduction. Gasoline was used previously as buoyancy material, but this hardened with epoxy resin micro balloons silica is used presently. Mercury was used in the past for adjusting the inclination of the hull, but the model which moves the center of gravity by moving the ball tungsten connected as beads instead of mercury as Turtle and Sea Cliff in recent years some. The ball of tungsten enters on one side of the ball made ​​of buoyant material is continuous with half a ball of tungsten, to compensate for the volume that you moved in that the buoyancy, material enters the tank on the opposite side by the same number. Manned submersible boats were built various countries until the 1970’s.


The performance of remote-controlled unmanned spacecraft technology has vastly improved since the 1980’s, resulting in the number of manned submersible boats used to be reduced. Operating expenses, including the support of the mother ship, such as remote control unmanned spacecraft is to be less than 1/10 as compared to the manned submersible with a diving capacity of deeper capability. Further, it has become possible to fly drones in the sky with the advancement of technology, that was previously impossible without being manned. In addition, the operation to control the unmanned submersibles compared to manned submersibles has helped in the investigation of the Titanic at the ocean floor. Self-ROV, which do not require the manipulation of a cable in recent years have been developed, and it has become possible to continuously navigate over long distances.

Relevance to the Novel

This convection and moving and colliding of the plates is the basis of how Japan is sunk under the sea in the book. When the plates collide, it basically pulls and forces the other down with it. This causes the plate, with violent changes happening rapidly, along with the whole Japanese Archipelago that is a part of it to become submerged. The use of deep-sea submarines manned by researchers, was a very useful tool to investigate the depths first hand.

Japan is Sinking! Or is it?


Works Cited

HSCI 3023 by John Stewart History of Science Departent University of Oklahoma