Energy landscapes - with applications to clusters, biomolecules and glasses

Energy landscapes - with applications to clusters, biomolecules and glasses
David J Wales
Cambridge, UK: CUP 2003 | Pp 681 | ?55.00 (HB) | ISBN 0521814154
Reviewed by Andrew Williams

It is a truism that knowledge of energy landscapes will explain all molecular phenomena. The devil is in the detail, in this case in the large number of variables needed to describe the properties of aggregates of atoms and, in all cases, in calculating a reliable energy as a function of the variables. This text is written by a master craftsman who is to be congratulated for his remarkable success in the application of energy landscapes to very complex systems.

Clusters, glasses and proteins are conglomerations of essentially close-packed atoms and in the case of globular proteins there is an underlying thread of covalency joining up the constituent atoms. The common close-packing arrangements explain why such disparate systems respond to essentially the same theoretical tools.

The advantage that can be taken of cross-fertilisation between the areas of scientific activity is one of the major themes of Wales’ book. His text also reflects the often spectacular advances seen in modern research where cross-fertilisation occurs.

A treatment of complex phenomena requiring many major parameter changes needs knowledge of the way mathematicians deal with functions of many dimensions. This makes the text somewhat fearsome for the general chemical reader but it leaves you in no doubt of the major techniques and results even if you are shaky on the mathematics and quantum and statistical mechanics.

For the specialist the book serves its remit. For an audience of graduate students I would say that they would have to be already working in a relevant field as they will need more than the usual familiarity with advanced mathematical techniques. This is not to say that the text is not suitable for graduate students starting in the field because the the book indicates what is needed in the way of preparation and the text is well endowed with further reading material for assistance.