padThe Secret Life of Dust From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter,  the Big Consequences of Little Things

by Hannah Holmes

In just a couple of breaths, you inhale hundreds of thousands of dust specks. Some lodge in your nose while others make their way to your lungs. Depending on where you are, these particles could contain skin flakes, disintegrating clothing, tree bark, bicycle paint, ant legs, or volcanic ash. Of course, we rarely notice these specks because of their size—the biggest are two-thirds the width of a human hair, the smallest one-ten-thousandth of a hair's width. Studying such minutia provides a challenge. As Holmes excavates the dust realm, she reveals both the pros and cons of the specks and describes how scientists from wide-ranging fields study them. She points to both the cosmos, where dust begets stars and planets, and Earth, where dust plays an integral role in the water cycle. Epidemiological studies, she reports, now suggest that children who grow up in dusty houses are less likely to get asthma than others are. She also looks at dust's ugly side. Asbestos, coal dust, and automobile exhaust wreak havoc on people. From various vantage points, Holmes provides a compelling and enjoyable look at the world of these tiny flecks.

Wiley, 2001, 240 p., hardcover

Secret Life of Dust, The

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