10th March 2000 at 00:00
WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? SERIES. Chaos and Uncertainty. By Mary and John Gribbin. Artificial Intelligence. By Jack Challoner. The Science Museum Book of Amazing Facts series. Weather. By Anthony Wilson. Time. By Dr Mike Goldsmith. Hodder pound;3.99 each.

OXFORD SCIENCE MAGIC SERIES. Laboratory in the Living Room. Conjuring in the Kitchen. Brainwaves in the Bedroom. Bewitched in the Bathroom. By Richard Robinson. Oxford How to series How to Split the Atom. How to Build a Time Machine. How to Clone a Sheep. How to Build a Rocket. By Hazel Richardson. Oxford University Press pound;3.99 each.

A welcome trend in children's books is the growth of the non-fiction paperback. Science in particular has benefited from this inexpensive genre, characterised by dynamic presentation, cartoons and activities. Four recent series illustrate the strength and diversity of the format.

What's the Big Idea? is a series for teenagers which tackles social and scientific issues. Mary and John Gribbin, past TES award winners, have produced Chaos and Uncertainty. They explore mechanisms of nature through concepts including the butterfly effect, Gaia, attractors and punctuated equilibrium. This outline of fresh scientific thinking should be essential reading for all budding scientists.

The development of artificial intelligence will be a hallmark of this century. Jack Challoner looks at human intelligence and the development of computers before considering the logical next step.

Among the issues he considers are possible applications of thinking computers - will they improve our lives r make humans their slaves?

Weather is given the Amazing Facts treatment. From weather forecasts to climate change, Anthony Wilson looks at causes, effects and extremes of weather.

In Time, Dr Mike Goldsmith urges his readers to "try remembering tomorrow or having something different for lunch yesterday - tricky, isn't it?" He explores the nature and measurement of time, and the possibilities of time travel. We find out that days are lengthening, why April has fools and how to slow time to a stop. Like the rest of the series, this is a fascinating book entertainingly written.

Although the Science Magic titles may seem to invite domestic devastation, Richard Robinson's books are in fact collections of conjuring tricks - simple science experiments in which nature, with some help, produces the magic.

Household items allow the junior magician to make an erupting volcano and camera obscura, hypnotise books and see water flow uphill. In the classroom, teachers could choose tricks to add entertainment to science lessons.

In the How to series, Hazel Richardson traces the development of scientific ideas and their applications. Cartoons and text boxes are punctuated by practical activities in which young scientists are encouraged to model the splitting of the atom or an exploding star and actually make a rocket or clone a frog. Each book builds up to a climax - the benefits and dangers of nuclear power, a rocket trip, the stages in cloning a sheep and a journey through time.

Dennis Ashton is director of the Sheffield Stardome Planetarium

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