Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life
by Helen Czerski
Published in January, 2018
From Goodreads: Storm in a Teacup is Helen Czerski’s lively, entertaining, and richly informed introduction to the world of physics. Czerski provides the tools to alter the way we see everything around us by linking ordinary objects and occurrences, like popcorn popping, coffee stains, and fridge magnets, to big ideas like climate change, the energy crisis, or innovative medical testing. She provides answers to vexing questions: How do ducks keep their feet warm when walking on ice? Why does it take so long for ketchup to come out of a bottle? Why does milk, when added to tea, look like billowing storm clouds? In an engaging voice at once warm and witty, Czerski shares her stunning breadth of knowledge to lift the veil of familiarity from the ordinary.
Have you ever wondered why popcorn pops– or on the flipside, why there are unpopped bits left at the bottom of the bag? Ever wondered how ducks deal with cold feet when they’re walking on ice? Do you know why the toast always falls buttered-side down when it gets knocked off the table?
Do you want to know how and why these prosaic things relate to the movements of planets, how rockets escape Earth’s gravity, or climate change? If so, Helen Czerski’s book, Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life is the book for you.
While I have read several physics books by many of the currents stars of the field, they all speak to Big Ideas and Big Events like how the universe was formed or the deaths of giant stars millions of light years away. While this is amazing knowledge to be spreading around and is interesting by itself, it doesn’t always speak to our individual lives. Knowing that the Chandrasekhar Limit is 1.4 solar masses is great, but as the old schoolyard refrain goes, “When am I ever going to use this in the real world?”
Czerski tells us where and when we’ll use this in the real world by describing experiences everyone’s had. Have you ever dropped a slice of buttered bread? Tried to air dry clothes on a humid day? Pondered those glowing read heating coils while waiting for the toaster to finish up? Whoa! I have, too! As it turns out, these mundane examples showcase fundamental laws of physics that we humans have learned how to manipulate for our own purposes– for better or worse.
With humorous anecdotes about her own experiences in the field (or more accurately, on the ocean) and examples from everyday life such as watching milk swirl through her tea or a memorable few minutes spent watching ducks in an icy river, Czerski takes a series of complex-seeming scientific laws and theories and brings them down to a layperson’s level. That’s not to say that she talks down to the reader– that isn’t the case at all. She assumes that, just maybe, the last time anyone talked to the reader about Boyle’s Law was back in school, and the reader might have forgotten a few things since then. Her wit and warmth make her stories thoroughly engaging, and it’s not until you stop and say, “So that’s why that does that!” that you realize you’ve learned something about the world. It’s a pretty cool feeling, and it happened to me over and over again while I was reading Storm in a Teacup.
This book is for anyone who wants to learn a few things about the world we live in and what makes things happen. And while you can try most of these experiments at home, I would recommend that you just take Czerski’s word about falling buttered bread.