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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's all this stuff?, April 2, 2014
This review is from: Stuff Matters (Paperback)
Have you ever stared at a bowl of jello and wondered what it would look like if you took all the water out of it? Probably not, but in the 1930s a chemist by the nam,e of Samuel Kistler did, and he managed to do so by replacing the water in the gel with a pressurized gas. He called the resultant material an aerogel. Kistler went on to do this trick with a number of materials, including silicon dioxide, which is what glass is made from, and created a silicon aerogel- a rigid, open-celled foam that was 98 percent air. It was the lightest, most effective insulator yet discovered, and It was also fireproof. A solid gas, as one put it. A miracle material that should have been revolutionary.

Kistler patented his aerogels and licensed them to Monsanto, and the world pretty much ignored them. No one needed an expensive ultra-light, low density material in the 1930s. It wasn't until the 1980s that aerogels were rediscovered by NASA, who found them an idea product not only for insulating spacecraft, but for collecting samples in outer space.

This sort of story fascinate author and materials scientist Mark Miodownik, and he has collected several stories about the artificial materials that shape our world. Some are as simple (and yet world-changing) as paper, glass, and concrete. Others, like graphene, are at the frontiers of research. Some materials are used to make buildings, and some are used to create artificial bones and organs.

Miodownik is a man possessed of infinite curiosity and the ability to be fascinated by the smallest details- qualities that no doubt served him well in his professional life, and that serve him well here, as he does a very good job of explaining to the lay reader exactly why some paper is smooth and glossy, why spoons don't have their own flavor, or how clay can be turned into fine porcelain. He is also possessed of a fine sense of humor that makes this even more of a pleasure to read.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 28, 2014 11:56:59 AM PDT
BP says:
I wouldn't trust anything in this book. The author's description of the photographic process is just plain wrong, i.e., factually incorrect. What else did he get wrong?
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