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Found in Translation

by Sophie L. Rovner
October 11, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 41

Headline Translation Courtesy Of Nai-Yi & Sandra Wang
Headline Translation Courtesy Of Nai-Yi & Sandra Wang

AN ILLUSTRATED CHINESE-ENGLISH GUIDE FOR BIOMEDICAL SCIENTISTS, by James M. Samet, Weidong Wu, Yuh-Chin T. Huang, and Xinchao Wang, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2004, 115 pages, $39 (hardcover) (ISBN 0-87969-701-6), $25 (paperback) (ISBN 0-87969-648-6)

Chinese scientists who find themselves groping for a lab term in English can turn for help to a slim reference manual published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. The authors drew on their own experiences as biomedical scientists associated with the Environmental Protection Agency's Health & Environmental Effects Research Laboratory to write a book designed to minimize the interruptions that can arise from confusion over scientific jargon.

"An Illustrated Chinese-English Guide for Biomedical Scientists" clusters related laboratory terms into thematic categories and subcategories. For instance, a section on measuring has subsections on volume, optical properties, temperature, mass, time, and so forth. Objects that are identified in this section include pipettes, a spectrophotometer, pH testing strips, and an analytical balance.

Each English term is accompanied by its translation into both simplified Chinese (in use in China in recent years to improve literacy) and complex Chinese, as well as by a small drawing. Many of the drawings clearly illustrate the intended subject. But because the illustrations lack detail and a sense of scale, it's difficult in some cases to understand what's being shown.

This section of the manual also includes a list of supplementary English and Chinese terms that aren't easily illustrated, such as "calibrate" and "quantitative."

The other main section in the guide provides a glossary that lists terms in alphabetical order in English next to their Chinese translations. At a companion website (, users can click on a term to hear its English pronunciation.

The manual also offers Chinese readers a brief section of advice on travel to the U.S., including information about what to pack, how to find a place to live, and how to obtain a Social Security card.



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