When we think of electricity, we likely imagine the energy humming inside our home appliances or lighting up our electronic devices – or perhaps we envision the lightning-streaked clouds of a stormy sky. But electricity is more than an external source of power, heat, or illumination. Life at its essence is nothing if not electrical.
The story of how we came to understand electricity's essential role in all life is rooted in our observations of its influences on the body – influences governed by the body's central nervous system. Spark explains the science of electricity from this fresh, biological perspective. Through vivid tales of scientists and individuals – from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk – Timothy Jorgensen shows how our views of electricity and the nervous system evolved in tandem, and how progress in one area enabled advancements in the other. He explains how these developments have allowed us to understand – and replicate – the ways electricity enables the body's essential functions of sight, hearing, touch, and movement itself.
Throughout, Jorgensen examines our fascination with electricity and how it can help or harm us. He explores a broad range of topics and events, including the Nobel Prize–winning discoveries of the electron and neuron, the history of experimentation involving electricity's effects on the body, and recent breakthroughs in the use of electricity to treat disease.
Filled with gripping adventures in scientific exploration, Spark offers an indispensable look at electricity, how it works, and how it animates our lives from within and without.
Timothy J. Jorgensen is a professor of radiation medicine and director of the Health Physics Graduate Program at Georgetown University. He is the author of the award-winning book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation (Princeton). He lives in Rockville, Maryland.
"[A] remarkably diverse story [...] full of vitality."
– Andrew Robinson, Lancet
"[A] chatty, wide-ranging tour of electricity's role in biology and medicine."
– Jerome Groopman, New Yorker
"A fascinating history of humanity's gradual understanding of electricity [...] Jorgensen's study is full of entertaining details, and his passion is evident [...] The result is a sparkling reminder of the strange wonders of life."
– Publishers Weekly
"Jorgensen weaves together tales of serendipitous revelations, strange misconceptions, and emerging understandings, showing how the ancients' first impression of electricity's animating role has been borne out by the discoveries of modern neuroscience."
– Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History
"A fascinating biomedical approach to the history of knowledge about electricity and its future uses."
– E. J. Delaney, Choice
"Ranging from lightning to puffer fish and beyond, this engrossing and innovative book describes electricity's connection with biology and tells the exciting stories of the people who revealed our present-day understanding of this mysterious substance."
– Roger C. Barr, coauthor of Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach