Thursday, October 04, 2007

Clouds in a Glass of Beer: Simple Experiments in Atmospheric Physics by Craig F. Bohren

Craig F. Bohren writes science books with a delight that is infectious. There are few books like this where science and education are turned into an entertaining commentary. Bohren shows us that the things we see normally, in our day to day life, contain the science truths which can be used to teach concepts, useful for understanding and solving more complex problems.

The book is an amazing survey of simple experiments that can be done to understand the concepts relevant to the cloud physics and atmospheric phenomena. A fascinating introduction to formation of clouds, including role of salt particles in nucleation, relies on carefully observing the bubbles formed in a glass of beer. Surface tension is introduced by example of dew formed on bath mirror. Concepts related to evaporative cooling or mixing clouds or relative humidity, come with a baggage of simple experiments that debunk scientific myths and illustrate essential physics. A textbook on Atmospheric Thermodynamics, published by the same author, is an entertaining and more course friendly account of the same ideas. The science of clouds by Tricker is an equally delightful text on classroom demonstrations and cloud physics inherent in simple observations.

Bohren tackles many concepts of light scattering which are quite difficult to grasp initially or say teach to young students, in a brilliant series of examples about what we observe in our daily life. Be it a discussion about "blue moon" or colors of sea or rainbows, Bohren takes the essential ideas and expresses them with his characteristic wit and brilliance. He supplies you with a tangible set of experiments to illustrate the concepts further. Bohren's treatise on Absorption and Scattering of Light by Small Particles (coauthored with Huffman) is most definitely the resource for looking at detailed physics and mathematics associated with scattering. The classic text by van de Hulst "Light Scattering by Small Particles" is a useful supplement for those interested in theory of small particle scattering.

Bohren has written another book titled: "What Light through Yonder Window Breaks" with some more hand-on experiments about Atmospheric Physics. "Clouds in the Glass of Beer" and its sequel are two books that every atmospheric physics student must read and own. The books are throughly enjoyable for anyone even remotely interested in everyday science. No equations involved! No education beyond high school required! Only for fun loving scientists, who believe that true understanding comes when a difficult concept can be explained by simple analogies and in simple language. Highly recommended.

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