Let’s learn a bit of crazy science in our life (Book Review)

Title: Atoms Under The Floorboards; Author: Chris Woodford; Publisher: Bloomsbury; Pages: 336; Price: Rs.399

Why don’t skyscrapers blow over? Why does a car use 250 times more air than a bicycle (oh my Gosh!)? Why can you see through windows but not through walls? How come a glass sometimes bounces off the floor without breaking? Can you burn your house down with an electric drill (terrible, no? Don’t try it)?

Crazy questions these may be, but the answers to them (and many more like them) are not crazy at all. They are plain, comprehensible sciencescience which we come across every minute and every moment of our day-to-day lives, without ever realising it.

And what is science? According to the author, science is fundamentally, looking at things differently and scientific ideas – divorced from the sparkle and drudgery of everyday life – mean little to most. As Albert Einstein observed: “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”

We, the common people, can spend our entire life without once thinking much about science. But, in reality, we cannot survive even for a second without using science in one way or another.

This takes us to the opening question: Why don’t skyscrapers blow over in the winds? It’s because they have “big feet”. In other words, the dazzlingly high buildings are actually not much higher than they are wide (low height-to-width ratio).

For example, the Empire State building is 380 metres high and 100 metres wide. So, its height-to-width ratio is just 4:1. In case of the Eiffel Tower, this ratio is mere 2.4:1, because its legs are so far apart.

Now, the fascinating thing about skyscrapers is not that they stand intact in the face of strong winds, but the fact that they DON’T! Yeah, you read it right. Most high rises are designed to wibble and wobble, albeit slowly, in challenging winds. (The winds can snap a 500-metre-high building in the middle if it were completely rigid).

The twin Towers, for instance, could move up to one metre at the top! The Empire State Building, in comparison, can wobble for up to eight centimetres.

Now, that’s science. Before you start wondering where on earth did we get all these astonishing facts from, let us tell you the source. It’s a book by Chris Woodford – a science and tech writer who has to his credit the best-selling “Cool Stuff” series. Here, you will find the answers to all the above crazy questions.

Written in a lucid and interactive style, the book is fun to read and a mine of knowledge – one that promises to change the way you or your kids look at the smallest of things in daily life.

And remember, science is just another way of looking at things!

(Mohd Asim can be contacted at mohd.a@ians.in)

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