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21W.035 The Science of Everyday Life

21W.035                                                                                                                                                                                                                Taft

Spring 2020

The Science of Everyday Life

 (Revised version due 1pm, March 3rd.)


Here’s an opportunity to satisfy your curiosity about the science of something close at hand, something we encounter every day but which most of us take for granted. Write a short essay on an aspect of “everyday” science or technology that you would enjoy sharing with readers. Though you will have to do some research, this is not meant to be written as a research essay. You will keep quotes to a minimum and mostly summarize or paraphrase your sources, just as if you were writing for a general interest magazine or website.


Some possible topics:

  • How does my guitar or cello make music?
  • What happens when I make bread or meringue (or any other food that transforms as it cooks)?
  • Theory and design of my favorite bridge? (cable-stayed, suspension, trestle, etc.)
  • Why does the wind blow so hard around the Green Building?
  • Materials engineering or physics of my tennis racquet, razor scooter, skateboard?
  • What causes king tides?
  • Hover board?
  • Coriolis effect?
  • Lightning?
  • Hybrid automobiles?
  • A scientific principle (cf. “Celestial Pirouettes”) that shapes an everyday experience.


This essay must be accurate and clear, but that’s just the beginning. You aren’t writing a technical manual but, rather, an informal essay. So you must fascinate your reader, keep her or him reading, convince them that your topic matters.  Some suggestions:

  • Begin by choosing a topic that genuinely interests you. If you aren’t interested, your reader won’t be, either.
  • Form a question or a series of questions about your topic to make your research efficient and to give your essay a shape. For example, Why does barbecued meat taste so good? What makes it taste different than meat cooked on a stove? or What allows my watch to tell time accurately? What makes it waterproof? Why are there so many puffy white clouds on summer days?
  • Note that you aren’t writing a history of the science or technology involved—you are explaining how something works.
  • As you write your essay, aim to present your information in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow.
  • To make your subject easier to grasp and to interest readers, you’ll probably want to begin your essay with an anecdote or a problem from personal experience. You may continue to use personal experience in your essay if it helps you relate your ideas to readers. You may also find metaphors or analogies useful in explaining your topic.
  • There is no harm in beginning with Wikipedia, but you should move on to read other sources, perhaps including sources cited in the Wikipedia article.




  • The broad reading public—anyone likely to pick up a general-interest magazine.  You should not assume that your readers have strong science backgrounds.



  • Word Document (not pdf)
  • At the top:  Your name, 21W.035, the date, the assignment & version (draft or revised)
  • Title for your essay—something that suits the content and appeals to the reader.
  • 12-point font
  • Double-spaced text
  • 1000-1250 words
  • Paginate.
  • If you include images from outside sources, be sure to cite your sources.
  • Cite Sources—See below.


Using sources

When you draw on sources for this essay, you must use your own language, not that of the original source.  If you cannot summarize or paraphrase (i.e., significantly change the wording) then use quotation marks and name the source in your text. For example: As the Engineering Handbook notes, tensile strength “is best defined as . . ..”. DO NOT, however, use lengthy quotations—they will spoil the tone and rhythm of your essay.


While such an article would not have footnotes if presented in a general-interest magazine, for my information, please cite your sources with superscript numbers like this,1 and include a numbered list of your sources, titled References (Nature Magazine style), at the end of your essay.



  • Before you submit your work, always re-read your writing, preferably aloud, to detect ideas that need to be tightened and/or reorganized for clarity.