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Home > News > Middle world: the restless heart of matter and life

February 17th, 2007

Middle world: the restless heart of matter and life

On the morning of June 12th 1827, in a house on the corner of Soho Square, central London, a Scots botanist made a discovery that would eventually change our understanding of matter and life. That botanist, Robert Brown, originally intending to study plant pollination, ended up seeing into the heart of matter—and observing one of the secrets of life. So what connects pollen, plastics, proteins, DNA, time, entropy, atoms, Einstein, a suicide in an Italian hotel, a scandalous Parisian affair, nanotechnology, rice pudding, and global stock markets? The answer lies in what Mark Haw calls the ‘middle world': where matter on a microscopic middle scale, bigger than atoms, smaller than everyday visible objects, is caught in a strange restless dance. That peculiar dance of middle world matter, as first investigated by Robert Brown that summer of 1827, is vital in understanding everything from washing up liquid to proteins. And it may even hold a clue to the daddy of scientific questions: the origin of life.


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