Professor Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist of Australia, will this week launch a popular science book at UNSW Canberra that doesn’t explain the great mysteries of the universe, but instead tackles in easy-to-understand terms the science behind the objects and phenomena we encounter in everyday life.
From understanding why detergents work better on wet surfaces, to explaining how glues keep your kitchen table intact and why ducks float on ponds, On the Surface of Things by Professor Ric Pashley examines the intimate forces of attraction and repulsion between atoms and molecules that make our world work.
Although lacking scientific proof of their existence, Ancient Greeks understood the theoretical presence of atoms more than 2,000 years ago, recognising that all matter was comprised of fundamental building blocks held together by attractive forces operating between their surfaces.
“We live at the interface of the Earth and the air, so it’s not surprising that we are interested in the surface of things,” says Professor Pashley. “Every single thing has a surface or boundary that defines it, and if we can understand how the forces acting upon theses surfaces work we can understand so many things about the man-made and natural environment.”
At its core, the book is also about making science accessible to a general audience: “Scientists always have the view that they can understand the arts quite well, but the reverse never seems to be true, and it’s largely because mathematics is a formidable barrier,” he says. “I don’t think there should be a barrier at all, and my goal in writing this book was to smash it down.”
Professor Michael Frater, Rector at UNSW Canberra, says: “On the Surface of Things successfully communicates complex science in an easy, accessible read. It demonstrates UNSW’s research expertise and its practical outcomes, and it engages the wider community through outreach and education.”
Pashley was the former Dean of the Faculty of Science and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) at the Australian National University, where he taught for almost 30 years. He joined UNSW Canberra in 2010 as a Professor of Chemistry.
On the Surface of Things was published by Connor Court Publishing, and will be launched at 4 pm on Thursday 29 November at UNSW Canberra at ADFA.