Life's Ratchet by Peter M. Hoffmann
How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos

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Synopsis

The cells in our bodies consist of molecules, made up of the same carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms found in air and rocks. But molecules, such as water and sugar, are not alive. So how do our cells—assemblies of otherwise “dead” molecules—come to life, and together constitute a living being?

In Life’s Ratchet, physicist Peter M. Hoffmann locates the answer to this age-old question at the nanoscale. The complex molecules of our cells can rightfully be called “molecular machines,” or “nanobots”; these machines, unlike any other, work autonomously to create order out of chaos. Tiny electrical motors turn electrical voltage into motion, tiny 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 worker bees working together to create something greater than themselves.

Life, Hoffman argues, emerges from the random motions of atoms filtered through the sophisticated structures of our evolved machinery. We are essentially giant assemblies of interacting nanoscale machines; machines more amazing than can be found in any science fiction novel. Incredibly, the molecular machines in our cells function without a mysterious “life force,” nor do they violate any natural laws. Scientists can now prove that life is not supernatural, and that it can be fully understood in the context of science.

Part history, part cutting-edge science, part philosophy, Life’s Ratchet takes us from ancient Greece to the laboratories of modern nanotechnology to tell the story of our quest for the machinery of life.
 
 

About Peter M. Hoffmann

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The late Peter Hoffmann was editor of The Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter. He was former Washington correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News and the author of The Forever Fuel: The Story of Hydrogen.
 
Published October 30, 2012 by Basic Books. 288 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Although his field of expertise is physics (he admits to having never formally studied biology), while still in graduate school, he became fascinated by the discrepancy between life at the level of atoms and molecules, where “chaos reigns,” and at the larger scale of human existence, where, for t...

Sep 02 2012 | Read Full Review of Life's Ratchet: How Molecular...

Publishers Weekly

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By blending the laws of physics with the principles of biology, Hoffmann, a professor of physics and material science at Wayne State, attempts to explain how molecules give rise to living organisms.

Aug 13 2012 | Read Full Review of Life's Ratchet: How Molecular...

City Book Review

Hoffmann makes a case for a ratcheting device that cannot exist with Maxwell’s second law of thermodynamics.

Feb 10 2013 | Read Full Review of Life's Ratchet: How Molecular...

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