Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book: The World's Greatest Fix by G.J.Leigh

This was the last book I read in 2014 and in fact I finished reading it on the 30th.

I was surprised that the first half of the book was about the history of fertilizers and agriculture (I should have understood it from the title!). Then comes the second part about the discovery of nitrogen and the historical progress towards Haber-Bosch process. These chapters were full of inorganic an industrial chemistry with several journal articles that I would love to read as soon as possible. I had always thought of Haber's method for nitrogen fixation as a more serendipitous discovery instead of a scientific research. I could not be more wrong. Also, Bosch's coworker Alois Mittasch tested "2500 different catalysts in 6500 runs within about one year." So much of the process (or reactions) were already studied in detail and there were other methods in use for nitrogen fixation. But, Fritz Haber (and Bosch) was the only one who made it work more efficiently and turned it into an industrial process. Final chapter is about nitrate and nitrite for those who are concerned of their affects on health and environment. Again, here you find a lot of peer reviewed journal articles as references. I think this was one of the best science books (chemistry in particular) I have ever read. Here are some quotes from the book:

"Alchemists, no less than modern scientists, were keen to find sponsors."
"No scientist ever makes a fundamental discovery that owes absolutely nothing to his predecessors."
"Today one can no longer whisper the magic words "nitrogen fixation" to granting bodies and expect to be funded."
"...%40 of all people alive today are dependent upon Haber-Bosch nitrogen...."
"There is a need for people to be much more educated scientifically, so they can make their own informed judgements."
" the alchemists, so many employed by modern equivalents of rich princes hoping to find the philosopher's stone."

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