Until recently I had never heard the words 'material science.' Sue I knew there were all kinds of amazing things done to make stuff in our lives, stronger, thinner, cheaper, better, and more energy efficient. But, being a child of the 60's I just figured this was 'better living through chemistry."
Boy was I wrong. And how wonderfully Miodownik has opened this world up in this delightful book. By taking ten ordinary materials you see in one picture, he constructs a marvelous world. Each chapter is named for a property of the material, and each begins from a very simple point. Some talk about the history of the material, others about its chemical structure, and others with a story from his life.
Using this as a starting point, he takes you deeper and deeper into this material and what makes it marvelous. For example I had no idea there were 5 or 6 different crystal structures for chocolate and why some of them make better candy than others. The book is full of these delightful bits of information.
Miodownik's style is a wonderful one for the layperson. Although he clearly knows so much more than he's telling you (and no doubt can say it much more technically), you always understand his terms, you don't fell burdened by too many formulas -- he always brings the discussion back to stuff we understand: paper money, movies, tea cups, stainless steel forks. What I love best is how his absolute delight in the materials of this world -- stuff -- comes through.
One very tiny warning:. Miodownik is British and uses British terms. Most of the time this isn't a problem, you'll know what he means, but once it tripped me up. In his chapter on foam, he talks about "jelly." To an American this is the stuff in jars that you spread on toast. He is not talking about that. He is talking about set gelatins, what in the US we call by the brand name Jell-o. If you figure this out, that chapter makes perfect sense. Thinking jelly as spreadable fruit juice makes the chapter very strange indeed.
It's a book that is at once an easily accessible introduction to materials science and an absolutely delightful personal set of reflections.
We have two sons who are currently studying in the fourth- and fifth grades. They are sponges, absolutely ripe for music, math, language and science, especially when it is delivered in as entertaining a form as Mark Miodownik's Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World.
I picked up the book for myself, having just finished a couple rather dour non-fiction books on politics and race relations. Miodownik's enthusiasm for his subject and his cheery writing style captured my attention from the first chapter.
His book is a fascinating read delivered in a conversational style that makes it easy to share with my 11-year old and 10-year old sons. That's a rare treat in this medium, whereas we often share science documentaries on the Discovery Channel or PBS. I'm looking forward to having my sons share the book next with their grandfather next.
The book has a charming ability that makes it difficult to look at these materials - glass, concrete, steel and plastic - the same way again.
Rating: Five stars
On a related note, I've recently reviewed two illustrated books from DK Publishing that are for the young adult audience. I recommend both History Year by Year and Firearms: An Illustrated History and would love to see a similar treatment applied to Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World.
Both of the DK Publishing books are filled with full-color photos and graphics; and large enough to cover a kid's lap. "Firearms: An Illustrated History" is 12 x 10.3 x 1.2 inches and "History Year by Year" is 10.9 x 8.8 x 1 inches.
Miodownik's essay on metal, specifically stainless steel, would make a fantastic illustration.
on July 23, 2014
Overall, an enjoyable read. Some detractors: [(1) The sketches and photographs are of low quality. For example, there is a really bad sketch of an atom on page 149. Also, many of the pictures in the book are unnecessary. For example, in the chapter on paper, there are pictures of a letter, photographic paper, books, receipts, envelopes, paper bags, glossy magazines, tickets, money, and newspapers. (2) The last chapter should have been the first chapter. The author spends the first 10 chapters on steel, paper, concrete, chocolate, foam, plastic, glass, graphite, porcelain, and body implants. Then he spends the last chapter giving a high level view of materials science. Perhaps the author felt that the Introduction (before chapter 1) was enough of a foundation. (3) There are some serious distractions in the book, such as the 26-page screenplay in the chapter on plastic, which struck me as a tedious way to cover the subject. I ended up just skimming it. (4) The book goes back and forth between being folksy / anecdotal and being scientific. Personally, I would have been quite happy with a little less information on the author's personal life, and a little more information (and sketches) on quantum mechanics, atoms, and molecules.] All-in-all, an interesting and informative book, and I recommend reading it, but . . .
I loved this book.
I'd never heard about "material science" when I went to school, but biology left me cold, chemistry was absorbing in the laboratory, but the mathematical portion of the course was over my head. Needless to say, after that, physics was out. :-) But earth science I loved, and I would have loved a course on material science, especially if Mark Miodownik was the teacher. I found myself smiling as I read the science behind the everyday things in our lives: concrete, steel, paper, glass—even chocolate—and the most enjoyable part was that his prose was illuminating and the scientific concepts were clearly explained. Instead of being puzzled by the concepts, I found them completely understandable. Perhaps, for people who are more science-oriented it might have been simplistic, but I found it fascinating, especially the chapter about the silica aerogel.
Miodownik has an easygoing writing style that I really enjoyed, reminding me of Bill Bryson and James Burke. My only problem with this book is that I wish it could have been twice as long! I'll be looking forward to his next book, especially if concerning the same subject.
In 1985, a stranger stabbed a schoolboy named Mark Miodownik in the back with a razor blade, inflicting a stab wound measuring thirteen centimeters. What the victim took away from this experience, besides the pain and an unsightly scar, was a feeling of awe that such a small weapon, "not much bigger than a postage stamp," could penetrate five layers of clothing. "The birth of my obsession with materials," Miodownik states, began that day. Mark started to ask questions about what makes substances behave the way they do and he has never stopped looking for answers. He studied at Oxford, became an engineer, and is now a professor of materials science at University College London.
In his fact-filled and entertaining book, "Stuff Matters," Miodownik tells us about the history, composition, and benefits of specific materials, some of which are commonly used but not fully understood by the average individual. Miodownik provides intriguing information that will propel readers to look at a drinking glass, stainless steel spoon, chocolate bar, book, plastic bag, concrete building, diamond ring, and even a pencil with new eyes. From the Stone Age to the present, materials have defined periods of human existence. During the Victorian era, steel was king. Silicon defined the twentieth century and helped create the information revolution that makes our high-tech lives possible. Miodownik also discusses how we interact with materials at a physical and emotional level. Are the things that we build, ingest, and wear merely practical or do they appeal to one or more of our five senses? Medically, we rely on materials more than ever before. Anyone who has recently had a hip replacement, undergone reconstructive plastic surgery, or been fitted with a prosthetic body part has profited from the amazing substances and procedures developed by creative and highly skilled scientists and physicians.
Miodownik's style is accessible, informal, and humorous; his curiosity and enthusiasm are infectious. He includes his own drawings, lending the narrative a more personal touch. Non-scientists may not grasp the passages dealing with atoms, electrons, carbon bonds, and quantum mechanics; nor will they necessarily comprehend why substances behave differently, depending on their composition, age, as well as their exposure to light, pressure, and high or low temperatures. Still, even people who flunked physics and chemistry will realize that some of the things we take for granted are truly incredible. Professor Miodownik urges us to appreciate the beauty, diversity, utility, and sophistication of the materials that make our world a more hospitable and habitable place. In addition, he introduces us to such exotic items as astrogel and graphene, each of which possesses unique properties. Let us hope that researchers' efforts and ingenuity will be devoted not just to making our everyday lives more enjoyable and convenient, but also to preserving our planet for future generations.
on September 29, 2014
More like 3.5 stars. I have a science/engineering background, though not materials science, so I was looking for more science (though not as much as a text book; maybe a Scientific American level) and less of the personal narrative. This book is more appropriate for a strictly lay audience (in my opinion). It's informative at a superficial level. For what it is, the book is well written and cohesive.
on September 24, 2014
Stuff Matters gives the reader a glimpse into the engineering and properties of many of the critical materials that we encounter in day to day life. Mark Miodownik is professors of material and society at UCL and introduces the reader gently to his expertise leaving them with a newfound appreciation for physics, engineering and chemistry. The book is highly readable and engaging and gives an excellent introduction to a subject we should all know about.
Stuff Matters picks several materials that are all contained in the surroundings of the author while he drinks coffee on his roof. He starts by discussing steel and the properties of metal. He discusses how we moved from the bronze age to the iron age and what was required to jump to the steel age. The author discusses the atomic structure of metals and how simple metallurgy can fundamentally change the strength of metals due to the crystal structures. The author moves on to paper and where it comes from (plants) and how it is both made and its properties. He discusses different forms of paper including glossy, newspaper, receipt paper and money as well. The author then moves on to concrete and how it enables modern construction. Concrete has been with us from Roman times but was forgotten for millennia and was rediscovered only recently. The physics of the material are described and the properties of reinforced steel are detailed. The author moves on to a totally different kind of item, chocolate. He discusses the history and the properties and the reader is left with a newfound appreciation for chocolate making. The next subject tackled is foam. This topic takes the reader on a slightly less immediately observable material but is a fascinating tale. The reader is introduced to a material called aerogel which sounds remarkable. The author then moves in to plastic and discusses it through the story of the inventor of plastic, it is really interesting and plastic was first being focused on commercially to fill the supply demand imbalance for billiard balls. The author then discusses glass. We are shown how it is made and where it comes from. We are introduced to both modern and ancient glassmaking and the material properties of glass. The author also talks about carbon and discusses how graphite and diamond are the same material. He discusses the crystal and molecular structure of carbon atoms and how they can form together in different structures. The author discusses pottery and introduces the reader to both clay and basic pottery but extends the discussion to modern porcelain and ceramics. The author ends the topics with a story of how he broke his leg and some aspects of materials in modern medicine. He discusses plaster and how it is a simple yet incredibly important material that has changed the nature of life and death injuries for math. He also discusses teeth and organs in reference to the 6 million dollar man to discuss what we can rebuild using todays technology.
Stuff Matters introduces the reader to the basic properties of many of our most important materials used in day to day life. It does so engagingly and by the end the reader will feel like they understand a little bit more about the materials we use. Definitely recommend the book and the audience is very wide.
"Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World"
Written by Mark Miodownik
. . . .
This is my go-to gee-whiz science book for the summer, an entertaining tour through the world of contemporary material sciences, written by an avowedly geeky British professor whose enthusiasm and cheerful wit come through in every chapter. Miodownik is fascinated by how "stuff" is made and works, and he communicates his passion well, explaining the peculiar properties of paper, concrete, metal and other, more esoteric items. My favorite chapter was the one on aerogels, a futuristic super-insulator developed in the 1930s but not applied to hard science until the '90s, when NASA used silicate aerogels as a medium to capture comet dust from the meteor belts and bring it back to Earth to study. I was so jazzed, I launched into my most Cliff Claburn-esque lecture mode for a variety of friends and family members... This book is full of fascinating scientific info, presented in plain, compelling language yet packed with good, hard science. Recommended! (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)
on October 17, 2015
The purpose of this book is to share with the world the beauty of both natural and engineered materials and how they have transformed the way we live. As a materials scientist myself, I was inclined to read this book because I wanted to gain another perspective on how to answer the familiar question, what is materials science. I found that Dr. Mark Miodownik has done an outstanding job in answering this question. The book starts with an image of the author sitting on his rooftop surround by several different types of objects. He then sequential steps through, in each chapter, these items and describes the constituting materials. Dr. Miodownik highlights the importance of various types of materials such as metals, ceramics, plastics, and glasses. He provides a brief, tractable, and insightful understanding of the structure and properties of these materials for people of all backgrounds and ages. I admit that while reading this book I learned new things, such as the importance of triglyceride crystals in the quality of chocolate. I strongly encourage anyone who has ever asked the question, what this is made out of and why, to read this book. It is my hope that this book will expose to the masses the relatively obscure field of materials science and engineering.
Most of us at times feel thoroughly modern and enlightened, and perhaps even a little haughty when we consider the primitive world that existed in ancient times. You know,say, 50 years ago. But if asked to explain even some of the simplest "low tech" items and objects around us, concrete, paper, plastic, etc., our response is often shrugs and far off stares. Mark Miodownik, is a young-ish materials engineer with a PhD, who is not just brilliantly knowledgable of the makeup and history of "Stuff", but is equally a gifted, entertaining and creative writer and instructor who clearly loves his subject with a passion. He's like that one teacher we all had somewhere between grade school and until we "finished", that talks and teaches with enthusiasm, gestures and such complete animation, that you can't help to both smile and be riveted to every word. Who knew that such basic and seemingly boring things like plastic that are both ubiquitous and often derided as cheap, had such an interesting story to tell even as they make our everyday lives, as we know them, even possible. How, for example, did billiard balls usher in the invention of the first plastic? Billiards went from an elitist past time, to a populist activity. Bar owners, especially, saw the game as an opportunity to have patrons stay longer and, well, keep drinking. But billiard balls were made from ivory, and with the explosion in popularity, ivory was becoming almost prohibitively expensive. John Westley Hyatt and his brother set up a lab in their shed, motivated by an advertisement in the New York Times that offered $10,000, a gigantic sum at the time, to anyone who could invent a new material for billiard balls. The money was offered by a syndicate of investors led by a retired Civil War general. Hyatt's experimental billiard balls had the annoying habit of exploding when they collided, with everyone in the bar drawing their guns, with what sounded like gun fire. So begins his saga of plastics. To say I have an entirely new perspective and respect for the 10 items of "Stuff" Mr. Miodownik details is a wild understatement. It's a light, quick read, due to the talent of his combination of little boy fascination and enthusiasm and sometimes stand-up comic, sometimes poetic word weaver. It's rare, at least for me, to ever desire to revisit a movie or book with so many other things competing for the precious open time slots. But I'm actually anxious to re-read Stuff Matters again from the beginning to try to fix the huge volume of interesting and entertaining information in my mind both for sharing with like minds and to keep my appreciation for the not so mundane Stuff, fresh. An enthusiastic exploding 5 stars!