Monday, March 06, 2017

Book Review: Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 978-0670920549

A5 Softback

272 pages


Most of my work involved messing around with various materials so when I spotted a book claiming to explain in layman's terms, how these work then it was worth borrowing from the local library.

I'd not consciously heard of the author but looking at the book flyleaf, I found he set up The Institute of Making, an organisation I had heard of one of the my more talented friends has also been involved with it in the past.

Anyway, the book takes the reader through some pretty heavy science but in a light and understandable way. We find out why metals get harder when you bash or bend them but soften if they are heated up.

There's some nice stuff about why glass is clear, or at least why things other than glass (such as aluminium Star Trek fans) aren't too. I think I understand it and if I need to be sure, a second read would do it. Arguably, this sort of book needs to be read twice - once to enjoy the ride and again to fix some of the details in your head.

One fascinating chapter covers a material I'd never heard of - Aerogel. It's difficult to explain (read the Wikipedia page for a start) but basically, you take the structure of a jelly and remove the liquid that makes it jelly. The result is something that looks like blue smoke but has many amazing properties. Protecting flowers from the heat of a Bunsen burner is just a party trick, but an interesting one showing it to be a superb insulator.

If you are the sort of person who enjoys finding out how things work, this is recommended reading. I learnt quite a lot, some of which will actually be useful in the future, especially if someone tries to sell me a magical electric blade sharpener!

Buy Stuff Matters from Amazon


Huw Griffiths said...

Would this be the guy who delivered the 2010 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures?

I hadn't heard of him myself until a few years back, when I think I saw him on Dara O'Briain's Science Club.

Although I haven't come across his book, I'm sure it's excellent - written by somebody who not only knows his stuff, but also explains it clearly in terms non specialists can understand.

Phil Parker said...

Yes it is. I have a feeling this book would be right up your street too.

Huw Griffiths said...

It certainly sounds like it.