24 Sep 2007

A great loss

Not long ago, I was told that the Swedish physicist Hans-Uno Bengtsson regrettably had passed away. A great loss for many of us that appreciated his unique way of illuminating the science in everyday life, and, to me, the physics in food and drink.

Hans-Uno Bengtsson was associate professor at the Department of Theoretical Physics at Lund University, Sweden. According to Wikipedia, Lund University web pages and people I've talked to, he was also an outstanding lecturer. My experience with his work is his writings on the physics of food and drink, although he published a host of other texts on physics, both scientific and popular. To Scandinavian readers, I'd recommend the two books any time

- "Koka soppa på fysik" ("Cooking soup on physics"[?]), a collaboration with the chef Jan Boris-Möller.
A collection of short texts on various food subjects, connecting apparently unrelated subects in an elegant and subtle way

- "Kring flaskor og fysik" ("On bottles and physics"), together with sommelier Mischa Billing.
A conversation between the two authors leading the reader through a meal, discussing various likely and unlikely subjects on the way.

My fascination about these two books is his special ability to interweave complicated physical subjects into the food and drink in a way that makes me gasp from the physics and maths without being put off (i.e. discussing adiabatic expansion in connection with the little "cloud" that arises when a champagne bottle is opened). In fact, in the bottles vs. physics book, he leaves the calculation in the book, but separates it in such a way that the reader very well may skip this part without loosing the thread. Also, the great aesthetic sense that characterises these two books, reveals a great gift both in terms of language/writing and visually.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to experience him a few times on a food programme on TV ("Mat"/"Food" with Tina on Swedish television), amongst others discussing the most efficient way of cooling your champagne: wrap it in a wet towel, strap it on your motorbike and go for a ride :)

I've been hoping for more food- and drink related contributions by Hans-Uno Bengtsson. Unfortunately that won't be, and as I've understood, I'm not the only one that will miss further contributions from Hans-Uno Bengtsson, who left us far too soon.