As an avid writer of popular science books and articles, Bill Nye is a prominent science educator, recognised most for his popular ’90s television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” In recent years, Nye has also published two books on evolution and climate change.
But things could have turned out differently if Nye’s fascination for science hadn’t been cultivated as a kid.
Just as he was starting to take an interest in physics, Nye said that there was an especially influential book by American biochemist and popular science author Isaac Asimov called “The Left Hand of the Electron.”
“‘The Left Hand of the Electron’ was really influential to me,” Nye told Business Insider. “I just remembered having the idea that protons, neutrons, electrons — we call them particles, but maybe there’s something else.”
Published in 1972, “The Left Hand of the Electron” was Asimov’s 9th book. It’s a collection of 17 nonfiction, science essays that Asimov had previously published in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” and focused on properties like electron-spin and chirality — which is a property in nature that represents asymmetry.
Human hands, for example, differ from their mirror image, and are therefore said to have an inherent handedness, or chirality. It’s not just hands, though — many compounds have chiratliy, as well, like the amino acid illustrated below:
The reason for this, however, is a mystery that scientists continue to explore today by exploring the fundamental properties of particles inside some of the most powerful particle accelerators ever built, like the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), for example.
When asked why he found the book influential, Nye said it was the concept of chirality he found so intriguing:
“This idea that things have chirality — that there’s a left and right hand in chemistry — and the mysterious properties of particles that you only discover if you build these enormous atom smashers,” Nye said.
Nye admitted that it’s been a long time since he read the book. And he mentioned that some of the science Asimov describes likely has been superseded by the many discoveries that have taken place since — for example, the discovery of a Higgs boson at CERN in 2012.
Still, it’s discovering the quirky traits of our universe, which shock and amaze, that can inspire a person to pursue knowledge the rest of their lives. And Nye is no exception.
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