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History of aerosol science
  1. R G Derwent

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    Edited by Othmar Preining and E James Davis (pp 438; 49.42 Euro) 2000. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. ISBN 3-7001-2915-7

    The History of aerosol science is a symposium volume that provides a written record of the First Symposium on the History of Aerosol Science, held from 31 August to 2 September, 1999 in Vienna, Austria. The symposium was held in the sumptuous surroundings of the Theatersaal of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The high cultural standing of the event can be judged from the front cover of the book, which carries a reproduction of La Grande Famille by Rene Magritte, and the Appendix which contains the musical score of Haze, Fume and Spray by Meinhard Rudenhauer. This was an original work composed for the opening of the symposium.

    The symposium volume contains a prologue by Othmar Preining of the Clean Air Commission of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and three sections reflecting different aspects of the history of aerosol science. The first section, comprising 11 chapters, covers the historical development of aerosol science. The second section contains biographies of 12 individual scientists who exerted a major impact on the development of the subject. The third section examines the role played by 16 national and international aerosol organisations and their journals. The text finishes with an epilogue by Othmar Preining. Indices are provided for subjects, proper names, and author addresses.

    The historical section opens with two fascinating chapters, the first on aerosols in art by Peter Brimblecombe and the second on aerosol science up to the year 1900 by Rudolf Husar. Chapters then follow in quick succession providing biographies of Michael Faraday, John Tyndall, John Aitken, Ludwig Lorenz, Gustav Mie and Peter Debye, Robert Brown, Ehrenhaft, Georgius Agricola, William Gilbert, James Clerk Maxwell, Ludwig Boltzmann, Lord Rayleigh, Norman Davies, Jean Bricard, Ted Rich, Ken Whitby, Bernard Vonnegut, Isiah Gallily, and Alexei Sheludko. The biographies are authoritative and well referenced but give no appreciation of the scientific advances made because they focus on the personalities and not the technical developments. Despite the importance given to the contribution made to aerosol science by Nocolai Fuchs, no biography is presented, despite being indexed in more chapters than any other aerosol scientist. A strange omission for someone credited with being the father of aerosol science.

    There is some valuable review material here, particularly on the ambient aerosol studies in California and the health aspects of ambient aerosols in the USA. Regrettably, the global climate impacts of aerosols get no significant treatment in this historical presentation. The national summaries could have provided much more review material, describing what has been learnt in the different countries about aerosol science. This would have made the book a much more useful volume.

    The book is riven with contradictions. The preponderance of new results burying old theories must be balanced against the new discoveries that can only be made with the latest state of the art instrumentation. The balance between personal science and team science is discussed in many places. The difficulties of accommodating independent characters in directed research teams and the bureaucracy associated with government and other research organisations are highlighted. The successes of directed research programmes, apart from those in California, are not addressed. The text plays down the importance of directed research into chemical warfare, nuclear power, and other commercial areas, and emphasises the role of pure aerosol research by individual scientists. It is not clear whether the editors feel that this “small science” model is valid for aerosol science in the future.

    This is a specialist book aimed at those interested in the motivation, idiosyncrasies, and background of some of the most influential scientists that have contributed to the development of aerosol science. It will have its greatest appeal as a symposium volume and as an aide memoir to those involved. It will not be of much interest to students and researchers, except perhaps to those deeply involved in pure aerosol science research.