Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Stuff Matters

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not a materials scientist but the author of the book I read this week is. Some of you may recognise Mark Miodownik from BBC Radio 4 or some of the various TV shows he’s produced on the wonder of materials and how they were discovered. Miodownik’s book Stuff Matters, takes a look at ten materials from our everyday life and explains how they are made, what their uses are and why they are so important (and in some cases fundamental), to modern life. It’s written in a very assessable format which is great for those of us who haven’t spent our lives studying materials and what makes them tick. Also, the book opens with one of the best hooks I’ve seen in a while, with Miodownik recanting the story of how he got stabbed. To most people, this would be a harrowing experience, but for Miodownik it just reinforced his love and curiosity for steel.

Something Stuff Matters has imparted upon me, is a greater appreciation for the material world and what we owe to it, minus it’s connection to Madonna. Many of us don’t take a second look at the glass that makes up our windows, or the concrete that comprises most of the structural components of modern buildings. In most cases, these materials have a complex history and many stories to tell. When we think of civilisations of the past, we tend to think of them as being devoid of these materials, however, they were on the cusp of mastering themselves and ushering in the modern age. Plastics and steel are some of the materials that these civilisations lacked, however they put us on a path of discovery and understanding to unlock their secrets. Glass for example, as well as being used in windows, was also formed into lenses to allow us to view those worlds much smaller than could be seen by the human eye, leading to new developments in material science.

Stuff Matters encompasses all of this and also provides some insight to the future, such as the unlikely tale of how a team of scientists discovered graphene using a lump of graphite and some sticky tape. It’s been some time since the book was published in 2013 so I can only imagine that materials have become that little bit more modern. However, it seems most likely that a number of our everyday materials will be alongside us for some time to come, until we find a better replacement for them. It may even be possible to create materials that help to heal our bodies or replace damaged organs. Only the future will tell and I’ll be watching with anticipation as developments are made.

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