Science with a smile
The naked scientist. The science of everyday life laid bare
London, UK: Little, Brown 2010 | 336pp | £12.99 (HB)
Why can't elephants jump? And 113 more science questions answered
Mick O'Hare (ed)
London, UK: Profile Books 2010 | 240pp | £7.99 (SB)
Reviewed by Lucy Mitton
Again this year we have a crop of books which pose questions - some serious, many interesting and most amusing. Some of the questions might raise eyebrows and readers might feel they are unreal and invented just to give the scientist the opportunity to provide clever scientific answers, but they never cease to put a sense of fun into science.
The Naked Scientist is a collection of true-false factoids, anecdotes and insights in addition to answering questions. It is based on the Naked Scientists science radio talk show, blog and website spearheaded by Chris Smith, a virologist from the University of Cambridge, UK.
It is well-written and aimed at a popular readership, with everything explained in simple terms. It covers all areas of science from medicine to technology and physics to astronomy. Chemistry contributions include polymer coatings for hand-held electronic gadgets and a detergent-softener cocktail for the improved spin drying of clothes, but there is much chemistry involved throughout the book.
Many curious and amusing scientific studies which might be worthy of IgNobel awards are briefly described, for example the 'wagometer' to analyse the wag of a dog's tail to determine whether it is happy or not. One problem is that in many cases I wanted to know more about the various studies described and no references are given for further reading - merely to say 'Scientists at the University of Bristol have shown that ...' leaves me amused but unfulfilled.
For more information and more amusing reading see website
Why can't elephants jump? is another in the now annual collections of New Scientist questions and answers based on its 'Last word' column. Questions which we might all have posed (or might not have thought about asking) are answered by one or more correspondents. Questions like: Why is frozen milk yellow?, will eating bogeys harm you? and can you float on jelly? are all given serious scientific consideration. I found the answers to the eponymous jumping jumbo question particularly interesting, especially watching the Youtube video of an elephant on a trampoline which is referred to.
Again I would have liked a further reading list to explore more, but Mick O'Hare provides a good interlinking commentary and makes the whole book an interesting and informative experience, and a useful Christmas present for an inquiring mind.
To read more questions and answers see website.
The Naked Scientists
Science Radio and Naked Science Podcasts
The last word
The science of everday things
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