From Publishers Weekly
Why can you bend a piece of taffy into all kinds of shapes while a peppermint stick breaks if you push on the middle of it? Why does adding carbon to iron make the resulting metal, steel, stronger, whereas adding sulfur brittles it, making it more liable to break? Eberhart, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, explains the chemistry of metals and other materials to answer these and similar questions. Scientists still have much to learn about how planes of atoms slide over one another when a substance bends, or why impurities can toughen an alloy. In the past, scientists and manufacturers designed new products on a wing and a prayer, hoping that they wouldn't break. The Titanic went down in large part, Eberhart explains, because the iron used in the ship's hull had been made brittle by sulfur, allowing the iceberg to rip through it easily. Today metallurgists have to be able to develop materials with the exact properties needed to avoid another such disaster-think of the Challenger or of an airplane breaking up in flight because a tiny crack was exacerbated by increasing and decreasing air pressure. Hydrogen-powered cars are still in the future because hydrogen embrittles most substances it comes into contact with, so new and tougher engines need to be designed to withstand it. Though Eberhard uses many examples from everyday life to illustrate his points, his discussion gets more specialized as the book progresses, making it best for science buffs.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
In materials science, nothing succeeds like failure, for it prompts discovery of what caused a disaster. In trying to understand why things break, scientists like Eberhart know that a fracture starts at the level of atomic bonds, but determining precisely what forces a bond to break remains a mystery. Shake-and-bake metallurgy and glass manufacturing has taken technology pretty far, furnishing us with jet turbines and Corningware galore, but, as Eberhart explains, making engines even more powerful and ceramics more fracture resistant runs into roadblocks at the quantum-mechanical scale. Atoms drift around, making material more brittle, and bonds stretch and bend in certain angles, all aspects of the fracture problem that Eberhart has investigated. He translates the technicalities of this field into accessible layperson's terms, aided by autobiographical excursions into his experiences with research funding, and with the public's generally deficient appreciation of technological risk: nothing is unbreakable, though we (or tort lawyers) demand that everything should be so. A very readable work for technology buffs, especially those who enjoyed Edward Tenner's Why Things Bite Back
(1996). Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved