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“Thing Explainer” Book Breaks Down Science Using Common Words

Dec. 18, 2015
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...

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 "€œUp Goer Five" uses descriptions such as the "€œopening for putting in cold wet air" to describe how the rocket functions.

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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