5 Apr 2008

Mielczarek and McGrayne: Iron, Nature's Universal Element: Why People Need Iron & Animals Make Magnets


Submitted by Hilary Eppley, DePauw University
This book, written by a biophysicist and a scientific biographer is a fascinating look into the applications of iron in biology, geology, and medicine. It also highlights the personal lives of real scientists and the excitement of doing science. The book begins by discussing the anaerobic beginnings of life on earth and iron's increasing scarcity as oxygen concentrations rose. Siderophores and ferritins are discussed as methods of controlling and storing iron. Biological magnetism of bacteria and higher organisms are discussed--these chapters include some great examples of the scientific method! Other topics include hemoglobin, controversial experiments of seeding the oceans with iron as a means to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and anemia and its treatment. The book contains many references to the original literature if a higher level of treatment of the topics is desired. (Rutgers University Press, 2000, 204 pg)
Implementation Notes: 

I used this book as a the basis for a First Year Seminar course centered on the element iron. It would also make a great anchor for an interdisciplinary science course for non-majors. Although the chemistry is perhaps a bit light (it is written by a biophysicist), it is a good, quick read if you want some good application ideas, especially for bioinorganic and environmentally topics.

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