Book Reviews on Science Pioneers

In this golden year of jubilee celebration of Singapore’s 50th birthday, it is fitting that we take a look at the past history and contributions of the various science pioneers, and their discoveries which have impacted our modern society. Below are some samples of some fitting books you can find at the Science Library.


William Hodson Brock. 2011. The case of the poisonous socks: tales from chemistry. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry [call no. Q180.85 Dis.Br 2011]

poisonous socks


In this book, Brock has written a collection of essays and tales of 42 chemists from the 19th and 20th centuries, which describes their scientific discoveries as well as their beliefs in the advancement of science and education. Find out how, thanks to the expertise of the chemist, Sir William Crookes, you do not find yourself wearing poisonous socks on your feet today. Or how the multi-coloured billiard ball models of atoms in Chemistry teaching came to be, from August Wilhelm von Hofmann’s innovative education techniques. You can also learn about the eccentric donor legacies of Thomas George Hodgkins who may or may not have donated to the wrong institution!

This book shows a different perspective of Chemistry, chemists and the idiosyncrasies within this subject discipline. Written in a light-hearted tone that blends the delight of quirky tales and enlightenment of scientific innovations, it will surely make you more appreciative of chemistry in our daily lives.


Balazs Hargittai, Magdolna Hargittai, and Istvan Hargittai. 2014. Great minds: reflections of 111 top scientists. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. [call no. Q141 Har 2014]

great minds


This book is a compilation of conducted interviews of the 111 top scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries by the Hargittais. These notable scientists include 68 Nobel Laureates and they span globally from different nations like United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Taiwan.

Organised by their specialty (physicists, chemists and biomedical scientists), each interview is prefaced with an illuminating reflection of the scientist. For his interview section, Jean-Marie Lehn laments that “I tried to contradict Freud, but he always won.” Francis Crick, who co-discovered the double helix in 1953 with James Watson, states that “I would stress the right of a person who is incurably ill to terminate his own life.” With these interviews, influential scientists such as Linus Pauling and Roger Penrose have allowed us a peek into their thoughts on their scientific work and life reflections.


Juliana Chan, Grace Chua, Shuzhen Sim, Rebecca Tan. 2015. Singapore’s Scientific Pioneers. Asian Scientist Publishing Pte Ltd. E-book available at

spore pioneers


Bringing the focus back to our local shores, Asian Scientist Publishing has profiled 25 Singaporean scientific pioneers aged 50 and above in this e-book. With grants from the SG50 Celebration Fund and the Nanyang Technological University, this commemorative book was made to celebrate the scientific, engineering, medical and educational achievements in Singapore from the past five decades.

A total number of 18 scientific pioneers come from NUS and their backgrounds range from botany to biochemistry. Even our NUS President, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, is included in this illustrious list! In addition, the prolific Professor Sydney Brenner is among the local scientists as well. He has worked as a trusted advisor to the Singapore government on scientific policy since 1983, and was conferred the inaugural Honorary Citizen Award in 2003. Currently, he is the Senior Fellow at A*Star and holds many senior positions at other established research and education institutes.

To read the individual stories of these scientific pioneers online, you can visit here.

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