The Pencil: History Of Design And Circumstance

Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, traces the origins of the pencil by starting with the writing technologies of ancient Greece and Rome, continuing in the 1500s with the discovery of the mineral graphite, and goes through the Industrial Revolution with the development of mass production. He discusses how Henry David Thoreau worked in his father’s pencil factory, inventing techniques for grinding graphite powder and blending different mixtures of graphite, clay, and other substances to produce pencils with varying qualities of darkness and hardness. Petroski shares with us what the common pencil can teach us about design, engineering, and technology.

Physics Of Superheroes

James Kakalios is a distinguished professor in the school of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota. He created a freshman seminar course that combined his love for physics with his love for comic books and called it, appropriately enough, Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books.

Because of its popularity with his students, he was inspired to write The Physics of Superheroes. It is a book for the general reader that covers all of the basic concepts in a first-year college physics course in an often humorous fashion and uses comic book superheroes as examples. Among other things, Kakalios uses basic physical principles to show that the Flash must be surrounded by a pocket of air when he runs that enables him to breathe and that gravity must have been 15 times greater on Krypton than it is on Earth. Kakalios refers to Iron Man, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, and the X-Men, among others, to cover concepts such as thermodynamics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and string theory.

He says that he has been reading comic books longer than he has been studying physics.