The Splash of a Drop (1895)

This "reprint of a Discourse delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, May 18, 1894" is a delightfully focused study on the physics and aesthetics of a splashing drop. Professor Worthington's opening address sets the tone of what's to come perfectly:

The splash of a drop is a transaction which is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, and it may seem to some that a man who proposes to discourse on the matter for an hour must have lost all sense of proportion. If that opinion exists, I hope this evening to be able to remove it, and to convince you that we have to deal with an exquisitely regulated phenomenon, and one which very happily illustrates some of the fundamental properties of fluids.

The main draw of the book is undoubtedly the wonderful series of images depicting the drops at different stages of its dissolution. Although the frontispiece shows three photographs of a milk drop in splash, the photographic technology was presumably not advanced enough yet to reveal more detailed stages of the drop's descent to sufficient accuracy, because Worthington resorts to the old-fashioned draw what you see method. Using a purpose built device a tiny flash was emitted in a darkened room to illuminate a drop at a certain stage in it's fall. Accurately repeating this over and over again at the same point was enough to enable the artist to render onto paper the particular appearance of the drop at this stage. The process is then repeated at progressively later stages to then build a complete series of the full fall.

As well as the mesmerising images, the book is also notable for the accompanying descriptions which throw up some surprisingly pleasing gems of descriptive prose. We hear of how "the central mass rises in a column which just fails itself to break up into drops, and falls back into the middle of the circle of satellites"; of "a drop of a milk falling on to smoked glass"; "traces of lobes"; and of how a drop of milk "rides triumphant on the top of the emergent column".

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