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“Thing Explainer” Book Breaks Down Science Using Common Words

“Thing Explainer” Book Breaks Down Science Using Common Words

Randall Monroe is a former NASA roboticist who wants to explain “complicated stuff in simple words.” He is the creator of the xkcd webcomic and a science blogger who recently released his book titled Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. This book is great not just for the grown-up engineer or scientist, but also as an awesome introduction for up-and-coming young scientists.

The goal of the book is to explain complicated scientific terms, technology, and concepts with a restricted vocabulary of the 1,000 most commonly used words. Simple descriptions caption blueprint-like illustrations of over 50 different subjects, including: pencils, animal cells, nuclear reactors, smartphones, skyscrapers, sailing warships, oil rigs, cameras, Earth’s geology, elevators, jet engines, and the Saturn V rocket (highlighted below as the “US Space Team’s Up Goer Five”).

The Saturn V rocket or the “Up Goer Five” uses descriptions such as the “opening for putting in cold wet air” to describe how the rocket functions. (Click for larger image.)

For people familiar with science concepts, it may take a little bit of thought and a sense of humor to think of a microwave as a “food heating radio box” or a nuclear reactor as a “heavy metal power building,” but you cannot help but tip your hat when he calls the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator a “big tiny thing hitter.”

For young science enthusiasts, this is definitely a gateway book to asking more questions. Some of the descriptions are not straightforward at first and may require a little more background knowledge, forcing readers to do some research for answers.

Descriptions in the book like “this stuff can also burn in a run-away fire, but has to be pushed together really hard first” (answer: second stage of a thermonuclear explosion) or the “air used by doctors to make thin bright lights for cutting eyes” (answer: the element krypton) will send many to Google looking for answers and further knowledge. Enjoy!

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