Life’s Ratchet

Life’s Ratchet

What makes dead matter become alive? A lightning strike over Frankenstein’s castle?

No, the deep gulf between life and death is bridged by the feverish activity of molecular machines in our cells. Science Fiction writers may warn us of impending doom from marauding swarms of man-made nanobots, but real molecular ‘nanobots’ that turn inert matter into living flesh have already existed for billions of years. Although the science of these remarkable molecules is being unraveled through the tools of Nanotechnology, the story of this nanoscale revolution has not yet been told.

My new book is a book about life written from the point of view of a physicist. It tells the story how physics and biology converge at the nanoscale and takes a fresh look at the ancient question: What is Life? At the center of the book is the story of Brownian ratchets; molecular machines that generate ‘purposeful’ activity from the relentless chaos of random molecular motion. These are the nanobots at the heart of life’s mystery.

Life’s ratchet is a popular science book aimed at all readers interested in the ultimate questions of life. This includes science lovers as well as spiritual truth seekers. The book is highly accessible; not requiring prior knowledge of physics, biology or mathematics. It is based on the most current science; bringing complex ideas to ‘life’ through everyday examples, references to popular culture and historical anecdotes.

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SF City Book Review

“Life’s Ratchet is nothing short of brilliant. With wit and literary prowess, author Peter M. Hoffmann delivers a profound message about the nature of the life within our lives. He writes with a grace and careful thoughtfulness—the Shakespeare of scientific literacy.

Hoffmann shows how the primary significance of Life’s Ratchet is captured in chapter five in an eye-opening discussion of James Clark Maxwell’s second law of thermodynamics. Here, Hoffmann explains, all kinds of delicious ideas that Maxwell comes up with merge to identify where the Life Ratchet’s energy comes from. Hoffmann makes a case for a ratcheting device that cannot exist with Maxwell’s second law of thermodynamics. …

Still, Hoffmann proposes all kinds of interesting twists and turns, messing with DNA, theory to bring forth even more dynamic concerns. Read the book for a more fulfilling experience than can be imparted through a simple review.”

Capsule Review – The Scientist

“What distinguishes life from its nonliving ingredients? How could life arise from the lifeless? These questions have vexed philosophers and scientists for more than 2,500 years. Bio-besotted physicist Peter Hoffmann wrote Life’s Ratchet to get to the beating heart of the matter. After a lively, lucid grand tour of the controversy’s history—featuring prescient thinkers you’ve probably never heard of (Julien Offray de La Mettrie? D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson?)—Hoffman arrives at modern molecular biology and the technological breakthroughs, such as atomic force microscopy, that enable us to see the very atoms of a cell.

The secret of life, he says, is not some “vital force,” but the unique operations of the second law of thermodynamics at the nanoscale, where molecular machines from kinesins to DNA synthase, fueled by ATP, can harness the energy of the “molecular storm”—the random bombardment of water molecules at jet-plane speeds—to move and work. Hoffman convincingly demonstrates how such “motors” could have evolved from simpler self-assembling structures, but admits that how all these cellular components came to regulate one another so precisely is still a mystery. A masterwork of making the complex comprehensible, this book would make a smashing freshman biology textbook—and that’s a compliment.”