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Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines
Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines
Richard A. Muller
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012
368 pp., $26.95

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Science in Focus: Ben Van Dusen


Energy for Future Presidents, Part 3

Entertaining, lucid, and persuasive.

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Anyone who has taken a physics class has heard that energy is always conserved. So why is it we are chided to turn down our thermostats in the winter to conserve energy? How can it be that an all—electric car, which has no exhaust, can produce more carbon dioxide then a traditional gas-powered car? What did the Fukishima power plant disaster teach us about nuclear power safety? What does all of this have to do with rising seas and hurricanes?

In his new book, Energy for Future Presidents, Richard Muller answers these questions and more, using his keen analytical skills to cut through the media hype and offer meaningful solutions to our energy problems. No matter your scientific knowledge or political viewpoint, you will find this book easy to understand, and parts of it will support your views on energy policy. But conversely, you will also find parts that contradict what you see as simple common sense. The beauty of Muller's work is that he is not an ideologue, unless using solid evidence to support your claims is ideological. Muller willingly treads into territory where many others fear to go. He takes issues that many people see as long settled and critically reexamines them, sometimes exposing new wrinkles in our understanding.

Muller is probably best known for his work on distilling complex physics issues until they are both interesting and understandable to all students. His class, Physics for Future Presidents, is one of the most popular courses at UC Berkeley and has earned him a distinguished teaching award. I have been fortunate enough to benefit from Muller's work on several occasions. As a high school physics teacher, I've had my students watch a recorded lecture from Muller's class when I was out sick. As an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator working at the National Science Foundation, I had the opportunity to hear Muller give a talk on global warming. His explanations of changes that we see occurring around the world were so lucid and persuasive that he gave a roomful of science PhDs a whole new perspective on global warming. The same evidence-based approach and direct talk about complex issues form the core of this book.

The release of Energy for Future Presidents is well timed with the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the de facto national science standards. The NGSS takes the historically broad K—12 science standards and focuses them down to a smaller set of big ideas, such as waves and systems, that can be woven throughout the curriculum. In the NGSS, energy is perhaps the primary organizing concept that connects all scientific topics. The NGSS also requires the integration both scientific and engineering practices as a central component of any science curriculum. By explaining the role that energy plays in both social issues and issues of engineering, Muller's book demonstrates how intimately science and engineering are linked and how the integrated study of both can make a subject come to life.

One does not have to be a science teacher or a policymaker to appreciate Energy for Future Presidents. The book will help any citizen make sense of today's headlines—and it should prod our elected officials to better understand the issues that are so crucial to our country and our planet's future.

Ben Van Dusen is in the Physics Education Research Group at University of Colorado-Boulder.

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