In the years since the first edition of The Handy Science Answer Book was published in 1994, innumerable discoveries and advancements have been made in all fields of science and technology. These accomplishments range from the microscopic to the global—from an understanding of how genes interact and ultimately produce proteins to the recent definition of a planet that excludes Pluto. As a society, we have increased our awareness of the environment and the sustainability of resources with a focus on increasing our use of renewable fuels, reducing greenhouse gases, and building “green.”

This newly updated fourth edition of The Handy Science Answer Book continues to be a fun and educational resource that is both informative and enjoyable. There are nearly 2,000 questions in all areas of science, technology, mathematics, medicine, and other areas. The questions are interesting, unusual, frequently asked, or difficult to answer. Statistical data have been updated for the twenty-first century. Both of us are pleased and excited about the various changes, additions, and improvements in this new edition, which continues to add to and enhance the original publication presented by the Science and Technology Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, established in 1902, fields—and answers—more than 60,000 science and technology questions every single year, which is how a library became an author. The most common questions and their answers were collected and became the library’s own ready reference file. The Handy Science Answer Book is a selection of the most interesting, frequently asked, and unusual of these queries.

This fourth edition of The Handy Science Answer Book was revised and updated thanks to the help of James E. Bobick and Naomi E. Balaban, who have worked on the previous editions. Bobick recently retired after sixteen years as Head of the Science and Technology Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. During the same time, he taught the science resources course in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. He co-authored Science and Technology Resources: A Guide for Information Professionals and Researchers with G. Lynn Berard from Carnegie Mellon University. He has master’s degrees in both biology and library science.

Balaban, a reference librarian for twenty years at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, has extensive experience in the areas of science and technology. In addition to working on the two earlier editions of The Handy Science Answer Book with Bobick, she coauthored The Handy Biology Answer Book and The Handy Anatomy Answer Book with him. She has a background in linguistics and a master’s degree in library science.

Jim and Naomi dedicate this edition to Sandi and Carey: “We owe you a lot!” In addition, the authors thank their families for the ongoing interest, encouragement, support, and especially their understanding while this edition was being revised.


All photos and illustrations are from, with the following exceptions:

Electronic Illustrators Group: 28, 64, 79, 95, 99, 109, 114, 147, 297, 305, 351, 533, 538, 544, 546, 551, 555, 557, 559, 565, 585, 595, 636.

Library of Congress: 19, 33, 77, 104, 395, 414.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: 182.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: 193, 307.

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