Liquid Rules - by Mark Miodownik


Liquid Rules - by Mark Miodownik

Read: 2022-05-29

Recommend: 10/10

A good book for understanding chemistry. I want to know Susan too. I like the author’s way of telling the stories and transiting from one topic to another.


Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, took mercury pills for his health but died at thirty-nine, probably as a result.

  2. If you continue to let it burn, the flame doesn’t travel down into the oil—instead, the oil climbs up the string, igniting only when it gets to the top. This system can maintain the flame for hours; indeed, for as long as there is oil in the bowl. It’s a process called wicking and seems miraculous—the oil is able to defy gravity and move autonomously—but it’s a basic principle of liquids and it’s possible because they possess something called surface tension.

  3. Liquids are an intermediate state between the two. The atoms have enough heat energy to break some of the bonds with their neighbors but not enough to break all of them and become a gas. So they are stuck in the liquid but able to move around within it. This is what a liquid is—a form of matter in which molecules swim around, making and breaking connections with one another.

  4. If you have ever blown up a balloon and then let it go, allowing it to zoom and fart its way around a room, you have a good grasp of how a jet engine works.

  5. Newton’s third law of motion, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

  6. Globally we currently consume four billion gallons per day. Whether we will be clever enough to find a way of putting the genie back into the bottle is surely one of the most important questions of the twenty-first century.

  7. Whereas one side of an alcohol molecule is similar to water, the other side, the hydrocarbon backbone, is similar to the structure of oils and the fatty molecules that coat the cells in your body.

  8. The first liquid that emerges from the still is concentrated in methanol—you have to throw it away. Experienced home brewers know this, but people die every year after making moonshine for the first time.

  9. Alcohol is, of course, a relaxant and a social lubricant—a drug, yes, but a legally sanctioned one that provides more benefits to society than the problems it causes—or at least that’s the story we tell ourselves.

  10. Studies show that flavor is constructed in the brain, which takes inputs not just from the taste buds in the mouth and the sensors in the nose, but also from your brain’s expectation of what things should taste like.

  11. Hypothermia is always at the back of your mind when you’re swimming in cold water. Hypothermia sets in when your core temperature drops below 95ºF. You start shivering uncontrollably and your skin changes color as your surface blood vessels contract, diverting blood toward your major organs.

  12. But even if you remain calm, swimming in 32ºF water for just fifteen minutes will be fatal, as hypothermia sets in and shuts down your muscles.

  13. It made me feel more alive to be that close to death, to tease it, and then get out of the water and walk away unscathed.

  14. Because the waves were hundreds of feet long, the first thing the people on the beach noticed was the water being sucked out to sea. If they had recognized the phenomenon, they would have had about a minute to run to higher ground.

  15. ; ditto for

  16. By flying higher, Icarus would have experienced colder, not hotter, temperatures. Temperature decreases by 1.8ºF for every thousand feet of altitude you gain because the atmosphere is cooled by the radiation of heat into space. At forty thousand feet, the altitude my plane was flying at, the temperature outside my window was approximately –60ºF, a temperature at which all waxes remain solid.

  17. Cyanoacrylate glue is best known as superglue, and it is a very odd liquid. This is already clever, but it gets even more so when you realize that a thin layer of cyanoacrylate liquid needs only the water vapor that’s already in air to be transformed into a solid. While many glues don’t adhere in a wet environment because all the water makes it impossible for them to stick to a surface, superglue works anywhere.

  18. Liquid crystals change the polarization of light

  19. In the printing industry, cyan (C), magenta (M), and yellow (Y) are generally used, with the addition of black (K) liquid to control contrast. This is also how inkjet printers work and why you see the abbreviation CMYK on printer cartridges. These colors are printed onto the page, dot by dot, and it’s our eyes and visual system that integrate them.

  20. We call the dots pixels. Each pixel has three colored filters that let three primary colors through. For displays these are red (R), green (G), and blue (B)—hence the abbreviation RGB. If they are all emitted equally, then the pixel appears white, even though it’s made up of three separate colors. You can see this for yourself if you put a small drop of water on your phone and look through it onto the screen. The water behaves as a magnifying glass, which allows you to see the sets of red, green, and blue.

  21. liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) compete with organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).

  22. Saliva, though, constantly washes the bacteria away, restoring the pH of your mouth to neutral. Saliva also contains calcium, phosphate, and fluoride in a super-saturated state, which are deposited on the enamel of your teeth to repair them.

  23. Salivary glands are common to many species and have been evolving in animals for millions of years, for myriad different purposes: snakes have them, to produce venom; fly larvae have them, to produce silk; mosquitos have them, and while they’re sucking your blood, they use them to inject you with chemicals that keep your blood from clotting. Some birds use saliva to glue together their nests; in fact, there are swallows, such as the black-nest swiftlet, which make their nest solely from solidified saliva—the main ingredient in bird’s-nest soup, a Chinese delicacy.

  24. You can also get temporary dry mouth when you’re experiencing stress and anxiety

  25. Mucin molecules are hydrophilic, which means that they are attracted to water. They also bond to one another, creating a network of long molecules that trap water between them. This is a gel—but a viscoelastic one.

  26. Green teas are produced by heating the leaves immediately after picking. The heat deactivates the enzymes, and so keeps the chlorophyll intact, and thus the green color too.

  27. Black teas are produced from the same leaves as green teas—they are just prepared differently. In the case of black tea, after the leaves wilt, they are rolled, and their enzymes help break down the molecular machinery through a reaction with the oxygen in the air. This is a process called oxidation, and it changes the color from green to dark brown, producing a different set of flavor molecules.

  28. But the tea industry is also prone to some of the snobbish vices of the wine industry; the scarcity of a tea and clever marketing don’t necessarily translate into a high-quality product.

  29. Fortunately, because black teas have been oxidized, they have a reduced number of tannins and polyphenols, which allows them to be brewed at higher temperatures without becoming extremely bitter, so you can have a highly caffeinated cup that doesn’t make you wince.

  30. When to add the milk to your cup is a BIG bone of contention in Britain.

  31. You might doubt whether adding the milk before or after makes any difference to the taste—it being such a subtle distinction. But in an experiment now known as “the lady tasting tea,” the statistician Ronald Fisher investigated this question rigorously, inventing new statistical methods to do so. In his randomized tasting experiments, he found that yes, people can taste the difference between tea with milk poured in before or after the tea.

  32. Like alcohol, caffeine goes straight into the bloodstream, so its effects are immediately noticeable; and, as with the other alkaloids, it’s addictive.

  33. Recipes for making soap have been found on ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets dating as far back as 2200 BCE but this material has almost certainly been around longer.

  34. take ashes from a wood fire, dissolve them in water, and boil the solution with melted tallow (animal fat)—and magically you have a basic soap.

  35. The secret is in the ash water; the Arabic word for it is alkali, which literally means “from the ashes.” Alkalis are the opposite of acids, but both are highly reactive and can transform other molecules.

  36. But fat and oil molecules aren’t polarized, so they can’t dissolve in water. This is why oil and water don’t mix.

  37. This is how soap cleans—it breaks up fat and oil residue on your hands and clothes into tiny spherical blobs, which can dissolve in water and be washed away.

  38. Egg yolk can also clean your hands, just as soap does, and there are plenty of shampoo recipes that use egg yolk as an essential cleaning ingredient.

  39. Then, with the invention of the radio in the 1920s, P&G started sponsoring serial dramas. Their audience was mostly made up of women, alone at home during the day, washing clothes and doing housecleaning; these popular dramas came to be known by a term related to the product whose manufacturer sponsored them—“soap operas.”

  40. Modern ads stress this, but the foam does not help the shampoo to clean more thoroughly. Its role is purely aesthetic.

  41. “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” she said in an official statement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”

  42. And to add insult to injury

  43. But when we buy liquid soaps, we’re mostly paying for their marketing; the essential ingredients of detergents, the ones that do the cleaning, are cheap—all the more reason to consider how these products are being made, and their impact on forests in the tropics.

  44. The low air pressure at altitude is, of course, the very reason why we fly so high; the lower density of the air provides less resistance to our passage, making the aircraft more fuel-efficient and allowing it to fly farther.

  45. It’s why the back of your fridge is hot, and also why leaving your refrigerator open won’t cool your home; whatever cooling is caused by the door being open is more than compensated for by the heat produced at the back by the pump, a manifestation of the first law of thermodynamics, which states that if we make something cool by taking energy out of it, then that energy has to go somewhere—it can’t just disappear.

  46. in 1924, Midgley held a press conference, demonstrating the safety of tetraethyllead. He poured the liquid over his hands and inhaled the vapor. Once again, he suffered from lead poisoning, but it didn’t stop him from putting tetraethyllead into commercial production.

  47. Air-conditioning systems are essentially refrigerators for air. For instance, the air-conditioning system for your car’s interior passes the air over copper tubes containing refrigerant, thus cooling the air. Cool air can’t maintain a high concentration of water, which is why water droplets form on air conditioners (this is also why clouds form as air rises and becomes cooler). Hence, a byproduct of air conditioning is dehumidified air.

  48. In the United States, the entire transport sector, including trains, planes, ships, trucks, and cars, accounts for 25 percent of the country’s energy use, while the heating and cooling of buildings through air conditioning accounts for nearly 40 percent.

  49. Ozone is like a sunscreen for the planet, and like sunscreen, it can’t really be seen once it’s been applied.

  50. the pressure is set to be high enough to allow people to breathe normally, but not so high that the aircraft skin is put under undue stress. As the plane descends, the air-conditioning systems pump more air into the cabin to equilibrate to pressure levels on the ground, which is why your ears pop.

  51. The same thing happens when you put the paint under stress by spreading it onto a wall with a paintbrush. But once the paint is on the wall and it’s no longer under stress, the bonds between the droplets of oil re-form and the paint becomes viscous again, creating a thick coat that doesn’t drip.

  52. It’s estimated that there are more than a thousand human deaths by lightning per year, with the injured numbering in the tens of thousands.

  53. Increasing entropy is a natural law of the universe, and it opposes the forces of condensation that bond the water back onto your washing.

  54. Airplanes don’t need to use silver iodide to seed clouds. If you look up into the sky on a sunny day, you’ll often see contrails emanating from the back of a jet aircraft. This isn’t smoke spewing out of a badly maintained engine; it’s a cloud seeded by the engine emissions. Small particles from the combustion process are emitted from the plane, along with an enormous amount of very hot gas. The gas pushes the aircraft forward, and while you might expect it to be too hot for water to form, at high altitudes the temperature is so low that the exhaust is quickly cooled. The emission particles become sites of nucleation for liquid droplet formation, which then freeze, first becoming water, and then tiny ice crystals. Contrails are just high, wispy cirrus clouds.

  55. There are more than a million people in the air at any given moment.

  56. Fortunately, in 1749, Benjamin Franklin realized that if you just placed a metal electrical conductor on top of buildings and connected that to the ground with a piece of conducting wire, you’d give the lightning an easier path down and thus avoid a lot of the destruction caused by lightning strikes.

  57. Out there, Earth’s magnetic field acts like a shield, performing a vital role in protecting us from the solar wind and cosmic rays raining down on us. Without our magnetic shield, they would strip us of our atmosphere and water, and most likely kill off all life on the planet.

  58. All the tectonic plates move, but not in the same direction, and the places where they meet, called fault lines, are collision zones. As the plates push together, they rise up to form mountains. Where the plates pull apart, new crust is formed, as lava shoots up from the mantle below. The fault lines are also where the most violent earthquakes occur.

  59. The mean global sea level has risen almost eight inches since the beginning of the twentieth century. Some of this has been due to the water thermally expanding as the oceans have got hotter, since hotter liquids take up more volume. Some of the rise has been due to the melting of the ice sheets over Greenland and Antarctica, and still more because glaciers in other parts of the world are melting too.

  60. If you melt together different plastics, you end up with a mess. Thus the plastics need to be carefully uncooked to make them usable again. Since there are more than two hundred plastics in common use, and any number of items on the market are packaged with two or three different types, all in a rainbow of colors, separating plastics has become a costly task. We haven’t yet found a way of liquefying them to create a sustainable system.