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Life at the Extremes

Life at the ExtremesBy Frances Ashcroft
Review by Helen (Medicine)

I read this book before my interview as it was on the suggested reading list. I was worried that it would a difficult read, but I found it both engaging and understandable. It spans such a range of topics, from extremophile bacteria to human space flight (and lots between), that it’s easy to find a chapter that really interests you. I enjoyed reading about the – sometimes pretty surprising – histories behind the scientific discoveries. Some of the scientists Ashcroft talks about are brilliant, some sound quite crazy, and some were a bit of both.

I really enjoyed how the science she describes was applicable to things that I had experienced, like the physiological changes in your body when running long distances. The book highlighted some of the amazing adaptions that animals have to enable them to survive in environments that are incredibly hostile. While animal physiology had never really interested me, it’s hard not to be impressed by the complex system of lungs and air sacs that allows birds to change altitudes (and pressures) very rapidly!

Reading this book sparked an interest for altitude physiology that I have maintained over the past few years. One of the best lectures I have been to since coming to Oxford was a lecture that Professor Ashcroft gave to the Biomedical Sciences Society on neonatal diabetes – she is a great communicator of science!

Life at the Extremes by Frances Ashcroft
ISBN-10: 0520234200
ISBN-13: 9780006551256

Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.

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