Life's Devices: The Physical World of Animals and Plants

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, Dec 21, 1988 - Science - 367 pages

This entertaining and informative book describes how living things bump up against non-biological reality. "My immodest aim," says the author, "is to change how you view your immediate surroundings." He asks us to wonder about the design of plants and animals around us: why a fish swims more rapidly than a duck can paddle, why healthy trees more commonly uproot than break, how a shark manages with such a flimsy skeleton, or how a mouse can easily survive a fall onto any surface from any height.

The book will not only fascinate the general reader but will also serve as an introductory survey of biomechanics. On one hand, organisms cannot alter the earth's gravity, the properties of water, the compressibility of air, or the behavior of diffusing molecules. On the other, such physical factors form both constraints with which the evolutionary process must contend and opportunities upon which it might capitalize. Life's Devices includes examples from every major group of animals and plants, with references to recent work, with illustrative problems, and with suggestions of experiments that need only common household materials.

 

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Contents

Constraints and opportunities
3
A variety of variables
14
Size and shape
38
Dimensions gradients and summations
60
Gases and liquids
82
Viscosity and flow
105
Pressure and flow
130
Diffusion versus convection
158
Insinuations about curves
225
Systems of support
242
The mechanics of motility
254
Staying put and getting away
277
Energy and afterthoughts
298
Notes on numbers
316
Problems and demonstrations
327
List of symbols
342

A matter of materials
177
Arranging structures
201

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