Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos

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Basic Books, Oct 30, 2012 - Science - 278 pages
Life is an enduring mystery. Yet, science tells us that living beings are merely sophisticated structures of lifeless molecules. If this view is correct, where do the seemingly purposeful motions of cells and organisms originate? In Life's Ratchet, physicist Peter M. Hoffmann locates the answer to this age-old question at the nanoscale.

Below the calm, ordered exterior of a living organism lies microscopic chaos, or what Hoffmann calls the molecular storm—specialized molecules immersed in a whirlwind of colliding water molecules. Our cells are filled with molecular machines, which, like tiny ratchets, transform random motion into ordered activity, and create the “purpose” that is the hallmark of life. Tiny electrical motors turn electrical voltage into motion, nanoscale factories custom-build other molecular machines, and mechanical machines twist, untwist, separate and package strands of DNA. The cell is like a city—an unfathomable, complex collection of molecular workers working together to create something greater than themselves.

Life, Hoffman argues, emerges from the random motions of atoms filtered through these sophisticated structures of our evolved machinery. We are agglomerations of interacting nanoscale machines more amazing than anything in science fiction. Rather than relying on some mysterious “life force” to drive them—as people believed for centuries—life's ratchets harness instead the second law of thermodynamics and the disorder of the molecular storm.

Grounded in Hoffmann's own cutting-edge research, Life's Ratchet reveals the incredible findings of modern nanotechnology to tell the story of how the noisy world of atoms gives rise to life itself.

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User Review  - kurdziel - LibraryThing

I first listened to this as an audiobook and was so enamoured I purchased the soft cover so I could mark it up and see the diagrams. While this is not the only book which attempt to describe the ... Read full review

LIFE'S RATCHET: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos

User Review  - Kirkus

A biophysicist examines the relationship between chance and necessity at the boundary between life and inanimate objects.Hoffmann (Physics and Materials Science/Wayne State Univ.) founded his ... Read full review


Chance and Necessity
The Entropy of a LateNight Robber
On a Very Small Scale
Maxwells Demon and Feynmans Ratchet
The Mystery of Life
Twist and Route
The Watch and the Ribosome
Making a Living
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About the author (2012)

Peter M. Hoffmann is a Professor of Physics and Materials Science at Wayne State University in Michigan, and the Founder and Director of the university's Biomedical Physics program. Born and raised in Germany, Hoffmann studied Mathematics and Physics at the Technical University of Clausthal, Germany.

In 1992, he came to the U.S., where he studied physics at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He completed an M.S. in Physics in the area of nanoscience, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. Hoffman is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, as well as the Richard Barber Faculty and Staff Excellence Award, the College of Science and Presidential Teaching Awards, and the Career Development Chair Award from Wayne State University.