Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos shows how the noisy atomic cloud gives rise to the orderly world of the molecular machine – and to life itself. 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.
Peter M. Hoffmann is a Professor of Physics and Materials Science at Wayne State University in Michigan, and the Founder and Director of the university's Biomedical Physics program. Born and raised in Germany, Hoffmann studied Mathematics and Physics at the Technical University of Clausthal, Germany. In 1992, he came to the U.S., where he studied physics at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He completed an M.S. in Physics in the area of nanoscience, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins.
Hoffman is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, as well as the Richard Barber Faculty and Staff Excellence Award, the College of Science and Presidential Teaching Awards, and the Career Development Chair Award from Wayne State University.
"A fascinating mix of cutting-edge science with philosophy and theology."
– Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Peter Hoffmann brings the universe of the very small to life. Life's Ratchet is an exciting guide to the wondrous strange nanoworld of molecules driving the machinery of life. Engaging, provocative, and profound."
– Werner R. Loewenstein, author of The Touchstone of Life and Physics in Mind
"Life's Ratchet is one of those rare books that pay off one of science's central promises: reductionism can explain higher-order phenomenon. While Hoffmann is careful to say that nanoscience hasn't explained what life is, he demonstrates that it can explain how life works from the bottom up. This is big news, and the exciting reward that Life's Ratchet provides. Hoffmann's magic is his ability to plumb the depths of his topic with trenchant metaphors and realistic examples. He is one of those rare scientific experts who can convey, accurately and with verve, the big picture and the small."
– John Long, Professor of Biology, Vassar College, and author of Darwin's Devices