Published by the British Broadcasting Corporation, 1980. Illustrated by Michael Brownlow, with photographs by Neville Miles. Hardback.
Engineering is fun, argues the author and to prove it he takes us on a journey of exploration as strange and as absorbing as Alice’s adventures in the Looking Glass World.
This book is based on Laithwaite’s 1974 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, which I remember being completely amazed and fascinated by as a child: it’s these and the Carl Sagan ones that I remember- the others have faded from memory.
There are lots of Alice references: the chapters/ lectures include:
- Looking Glass House- on symmetry
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee- on ‘handedness’ and chirality
- Jam Tomorrow and Jam Yesterday- on odds and evens
- The Jabberwock- on gyroscopes, gyreing and gimbaling in the wabe.
In 1974, Laithwaite was invited by the Royal Institution to give a talk on a subject of his own choosing. He decided to lecture about gyroscopes, a subject in which he had only recently become interested. His interest had been aroused by an amateur inventor named Alex Jones, who contacted Laithwaite about a reactionless propulsion drive he (Jones) had invented. After seeing a demonstration of Jones’s small prototype (a small wagon with a swinging pendulum which advanced intermittently along a table top), Laithwaite became convinced that “he had seen something impossible”. In his lecture before the Royal Institution he claimed that gyroscopes weigh less when spinning, and to demonstrate this he showed that he could lift a spinning gyroscope mounted on the end of a rod easily with one hand, but could not do so when the gyroscope was not spinning. At this time, Laithwaite suggested that Newton’s laws of motion could not account for the behavior of gyroscopes, and that they could be used as a means of reactionless propulsion. The members of the Royal Institution rejected his ideas, and his lecture was not published. (This was the first and only time an invited lecture to the Royal Institution has not been published.)
He was also an expert on moths, publishing The Dictionary of Butterflies and Moths in Colour along with Allan Watson.
Various books available on amazon: Eric Laithwaite books