Living at Micro Scale: The Unexpected Physics of Being Small

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Harvard University Press, 2009 - Science - 416 pages

Kermit the Frog famously said that it isn’t easy being green, and in Living at Micro Scale David Dusenbery shows that it isn’t easy being small—existing at the size of, say, a rotifer, a tiny multicellular animal just at the boundary between the visible and the microscopic. “Imagine,” he writes, “stepping off a curb and waiting a week for your foot to hit the ground.” At that scale, we would be small enough to swim inside the letter O in the word “rotifer.” What are the physical consequences of life at this scale? How do such organisms move, identify prey and predators and (if they’re so inclined) mates, signal to one another, and orient themselves?

In clear and engaging prose, Dusenbery uses straightforward physics to demonstrate the constraints on the size, shape, and behavior of tiny organisms. While recounting the historical development of the basic concepts, he unearths a corner of microbiology rich in history, and full of lessons about how science does or does not progress. Marshalling findings from different fields to show why tiny organisms have some of the properties they are found to have, Dusenbery shows a science that doesn’t always move triumphantly forward, and is dependent to a great extent on accident and contingency.

 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Background
7
Fluids
27
Molecules
57
Brownian Motion
76
Ellipsoids
95
Information
114
Energy
128
Comparisons
239
Optimal Shapes
249
Consequences for Interactions between Organisms
265
Predation
280
Pheromone Attraction
299
Gametes
308
Summary
327
Approximation Rules
333

Physical Consequences
137
Signal Detection
157
Dispersal
171
Dispersal by Collimated Swimming
178
Swimming
198
Consequences for Orientation to Stimulus Gradients
219
Size Limit for Locomotion
230
Sedimentation Equilibrium
340
Bending Beams
351
Calculation of the SignaltoNoise Ratio
357
Notes
373
References
393
Index
407
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

David B. Dusenbery is Professor of Biology, Emeritus, Georgia Institute of Technology.

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