Liquid Rules

“Liquid Rules: The Delightful & Dangerous Substances that Flow Through Our Lives,” by Mark Miodownik, Houghton Mifflin, 2019. This 232-page hardback tells the story of liquid materials. The approach is that of a polymath. This one is for those who want to know a bit about everything. Miodownik goes deeply into the details of some aspects he finds fascinating but is selective omitting other aspects. The story is told in the context of a trip on an airplane. It’s clearly written, readable and not overly technical. He includes chemical formulas but some contain errors.

A short list of topics: Viscosity. Surface tension. Distillation. Wicking of a candle. Jet engine. Alcohols. Marangoli effect. Archimedes principle. Tsunami. Fukushima. Phenolic resins. Tape. Post-it notes. Plywood. Epoxy resin. Super glue. Linseed oil. Liquid crystals. Color printing. Saliva. pH. Tea differences and brewing. Coffee. Soap making. Emulsions. Anionic surfactants. Shampoo. Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium lauryl ether sulfate. Refrigeration. Freon. Tetraethyl lead. Grooved copper tubes. Ozone. Blood types. Blood substitutes. Perfluorocarbons. Non-Newtonian fluids. Sheer thinning like ketchup. Ball point pen ink. Jet contrails. Cloud seeding. Volcanoes. Earth’s crust. Tar drops. 3D printing,

The author is British from University College London. Some difficulties could be cultural. In discussing the flashpoint of olive oil, he describes it as the temperature at which a material bursts into flame spontaneously. In the States, this is known as auto ignition temperature. Flashpoint involves exposing vapor to a flame under conditions specified by ASTM. “Much of the devastation of World War II was caused by nitroglycerine based explosives” is questionable. Nitroglycerine was used mostly in propellants. Other nitrogen compounds were used in explosives.

Miodownik reports that highly flammable butane is used in refrigerators replacing Freon now banned due to ozone depletion. In the States, hydrofluorocarbons such as R-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane) are often used.

Oak apples, the galls that infect oak trees, are rich in tannins and react with iron (as from a nail in vinegar) to make iron tannate, an ancient blue black ink that adheres to paper.

He describes emulsion paint as tiny droplets of oil held in suspension in water. In fact latex emulsions are dispersions of solid polymer particles made by emulsion polymerization.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a high foaming surfactant used in early shampoo. It is an eye irritant–the reason it used to burn if you got shampoo in your eye. Today no more tears shampoo is made with mild, amphoteric surfactants.

This book is loaded with details. Many will find it intriguing. The errors suggest further reading if the information presented is important. Reading list. Photos. Illustrations. Index.


Got it on Audible a back in 2019 when it was a daily deal.

AC pretty good book