What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Balanced Brain’

Author and physicist Helen Czerski sprinkles magic in the mundane in her 2017 book, “Storm in a Teacup.” Within the 275 pages, she delivers a stellar collection of stories about how everyday objects are steeped in science by using relatable anecdotes to make physics accessible to the lay reader as well as to the seasoned expert.

She encourages us to observe popcorn popping and to be curious about the way a piece of cheese dances as the molecules speed up when you heat it. She writes so eloquently about boiling water, a ketchup bottle, a metal spoon — almost anything she touches or witnesses is full of wonder. She asks us to ask the same thing she asks herself: why does it do that?

Czerski reminds the reader that everything is connected — from the stars in the sky to the toaster in your kitchen, and everything is worthy of a deeper look. “Storm in a Teacup” captures the secret formula for making us want to see the world as she does.

The title of the book refers to a well-known British phrase to denote a situation in which people get upset about something relatively small. Czerski, cheekily, takes the expression more literally.

“If you pour milk into your tea and give it a quick stir, you’ll see a swirl, a spiral of two fluids, circling each other, while barely touching,” she writes in the introduction. “In your teacup, the spiral lasts just a few seconds before the two liquids mix completely. But it was there for long enough to be seen, a brief reminder, that liquids mix in beautiful swirling patterns and not by merging instantaneously. The same pattern can be seen in other places too, for the same reason.”

Czerski is a well-respected physicist at University College London’s department of mechanical engineering. She writes a monthly science column for the BBC’s Focus magazine, “Everyday Science,” which was shortlisted for a Professional Publishers Association Award.

Most importantly, Czerski writes this book in an engaging way that allows even the most physics-averse reader to marvel in the magic of the seemingly mundane, because nothing truly is. Everything on this planet is extraordinary. Everything has a rhythm and our world is full of things that follow that same pattern.

“Our home here on Earth is messy, mutable and full of humdrum things that we touch and modify without much thought every day,” the book jacket reads. “But these familiar surroundings are just the place to look if you’re interested in what makes the universe tick.”


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