Feelings on Mark Miodownik's book, Stuff Matters

in Hive Book Club2 years ago (edited)

Metals are made of crystals. I did not know that. These crystals contain defects, "dislocations", and the movement of these dislocations is what allows metal to bend. I did not know that either.

Material science has always been an unusual subject for me. I'm interested in the world around me, I like to think about how things work, and, materials... well, they are there. That stuff that surrounds us - glass, plastic, steel - are an undeniable gap in my knowledge. Yes, besides the occasional Googled curiosity I have made no attempts to learn them. I think its due to a lack of a starter lattice to train my brain on - everything technical is too much weight to keep my attention.
Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik
Last month I came across Mark Miodownik's book, Stuff Matters. A pretty light read, I finished most of it on a car trip. Each standalone chapter covers a different material, from steel to chocolate to aerogel, organized around an adjective (concrete is fundamental, plastic is imaginative). They each tackle their topic in a unique way, as Miodownik says, "for the simple reason that materials and our relationships with them are too diverse for a single approach to suit them all".

It works well. The chapter on paper is the book in miniature, jumping around from "glossy paper" on how modifying the aesthetic of paper affects publication sales, to "banknotes" and cotton-based paper and anti-counterfeiting measures, to "envelopes" and their role in back-of-the-envelope-calculations and flashes of inspiration.

This contrasts with the chapter on graphene, a more technical explanation of what we doing with carbon now at the atomic scale. Other chapters examine history or culture, all showing Miodownik's excitement for materials.

The only chapter I felt fell flat was the one on plastics. It is organized as a screenplay, a Western about a man who only saw the negatives of plastic. Miodownik indirectly explains the problem with it at the beginning - he wanted to passionately defend plastic, but in attempting to be non-confrontational the chapter tries too hard, almost passive aggressive. People have strong opinions on plastic, you have strong opinions on plastic. Stand your ground. But even that chapter is full of exploding billiard balls, celluloid film and chemist patent battles.

Where do material science and I stand after reading Stuff Matters? I don't have an overwhelming urge to go learn everything I can about materials. I've glanced at the Further Reading sections and maybe Micheal Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle or Adrian Forty's Concrete and Culture: A Material History could be read in the future? But seven months into sobriety I find my book backlog growing faster than I can consume them. I'm not sure I want to add "materials" to the pile.

Yes, as I write this rough draft on paper, and as I play with the pen as I always do, I find myself staring at the spring, thinking about the moving dislocations in its metal crystals, allowing it to bend. Material Science remains an unusual subject for me.


Quite fascinating this.
We seem to have that in common, interest in how materials and everything works right around us but lacking that brain power to go into it fully.

This feels like a nice read for meq.
Thank you for sharing.

Congratulations @rodent!
You raised your level and are now a Minnow!