What gives rise to puff pastry?

Chemistry Connections
February 28, 2003

Most of the topics covered in this book, and there are more than 80, are posed as the kinds of questions that may go through your mind as you go about your daily life, and for which there are no ready answers.

The book starts with "How does a time-released medicine work?"

and ends by asking "What is the difference between hard and soft contact lenses?" In between, the authors cover food (what causes puff pastry to expand?), the great outdoors (why is the Aurora Borealis so colourful?), the office (how do Post-It notes work?), the home (how do furniture polishes repel dust?), clothes (how is fabric made waterproof?) and personal care (what's in a no-tears shampoo?).

Unfortunately, to understand the answers you have to know quite a bit of chemistry, which means that Chemical Connections is for the dedicated few rather than the general reader. It is also aimed at the US market because it answers questions those in the UK are never likely to ask, such as how to remove the smell of a skunk or how to protect orange trees against frost. It also explains how the now-obsolete flashbulb works, and what typing correction fluids used to include in their ingredients, which suggests that this book is a compilation of topics built up over many years. Chemical Connections is a useful resource for teachers and entertaining reading for chemistry students. As a chemist, I learnt quite a lot from it.

John Emsley is a science writer attached to the department of chemistry, University of Cambridge.

Chemistry Connections: The Chemical Basis of Everyday Phenomena. First edition

Author - Kerry K. Karukstis and Gerald R. Van Hecke
ISBN - 0 12 400860 7
Publisher - Academic Press
Price - £25.95
Pages - 226

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