"What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" by Randall Munroe

What would happen if you collected samples of each of the elements starting with hydrogen, then helium, then lithium, and so on, stacking cubic samples of each element one on another, to build a tangible Periodic Table Wall. How far could you go before you died of explosion or poisoning, and what would get you first?  This is one example of the kind of outrageous question that Randall Monroe addresses in "What If?". That is one of the chemicalish questions. Another is, what if you put together a mole of moles (the kind that burrow in the ground). How big would that be, and what would it be like?  That is not to say that chemists or teachers of chemistry would be intrigued only by chemistry-related subjects. I thought that the question, "If every human somehow simply disappeared from the face of the earth, how long would be before the last artificial light source would go out?" was quite interesting.  The answers to these questions are not necessarily correct, but they are the best that a technically adept and very funny guy can come up with.  His point of view is what most people would call "sophomoric", favoring reducto ad absurdum, especially if the absurdum involves something exploding.  Beyond the humor, this book to me exemplifies some of the creativity and imagination that is involved in productive science.  I suspect that teachers could use these examples (or better, other problems that you and you class can come up with) to spark interest in science. If you are not interested in that, just read the book because it is so much fun!

Publication information
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 1

Michelle Okroy's picture
Michelle Okroy | Sat, 05/07/2016 - 18:14

This book was just recommended to me by a student so I read your opinion and just ordered it....thanks.