The Sciences

WHAT TO READ, VIEW, AND VISIT THIS MONTH

By Lindsey KinkelSep 1, 2009 12:00 AM
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Toys

Xtractaurs These dinosaur action figures have a virtual life of their own. Players use a “DNA-extraction gun” to capture a creature’s genetic blueprint and download it to a Mac or PC. Then they can mix and match the genetic components to create new hybrids—combining, say, the teeth of a T. rex with the spiked tail of a Stegosaurus. Dino-obsessed friends can even compete in a cyberworld that blends fantasy with a dash of loosely interpreted science. Away from the screen, the models of pterosaurs, ceratopsids, and other figures are colorful, movable, and fairly realistic. A starter kit (extraction gun, CD, and T. rex) costs $20; additional figures are $9 each. Lindsey Konkel

MUSEUMS

The Nature of DiamondsAdd sparkle to your world with a visit to this exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum. In seven sections, the installation examines the many facets of diamonds, including their high-pressure formation deep underground, their use in drill bits on Mars, and their cultural status as the ultimate bling worn by VIPs from Catherine the Great to Elton John. The dazzling show opens October 23 to coincide with the grand reopening of the museum’s renovated Grainger Hall of Gems. www.fieldmuseum.org

BOOKS

Hybrid by Noel KingsburyShoppers who shun genetically modified foods in favor of “natural” fruits and veggies may be in for a surprise. Horticulturist Kingsbury’s lively epic documents the history of human meddling with plant genes since the dawn of agriculture.

Inside of a Dog by Alexandra HorowitzThe author, a cognitive scientist (and adoring dog owner?), gives a clear, approachable account of the research that reveals how dogs experience the world. Her work is an indispensable guide for anyone craving canine understanding.

Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer Technologist Beyer chronicles the life of the brilliant woman who revolutionized the way people interact with computers. Creator of the first compiler and pioneer of COBOL, a programming language still in use after 50 years, Hopper laid the groundwork for today’s wired lifestyle.

How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis Wolpert<In this highly readable introduction to contemporary cellular biology, embryologist Wolpert explains the role our cells play in development, growth, aging, thought, and disease. Picking up where Lewis Thomas’s classic Lives of a Cell left off, the book describes current research on stem cells and cloning.

TV

NOVA: Why Do We DreamPBS, Tuesday, October 20, at 8 p.m. (ET?)This captivating one-hour special highlights the latest that science has uncovered about the purpose and meaning of dreams. In their quest for answers, researchers are probing the minds of cats, sleepwalkers, and stroke survivors. A mix of personal stories (a woman dreams repeatedly about an abusive past relationship) and fascinating study results (a test subject suddenly excels on a ski-racing simulator? after dreaming about snow) keep the show moving at a lively pace. The take-home lesson: The dreamworld affects both mental health and problem solving in our waking lives.

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