Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World
by Mark Miowdownik
(Penguin, 2013, 252 pages)
As it becomes liquid, you will notice your tongue feels cooler, and then a combination of sweet and bitter flavors floods your mouth. These are followed by fruity and nutty sensations, and finally an earthy, muddy taste down the back of your throat. For one blissful moment your will in thrall to the most deliciously engineered material on earth (74).
You don’t often find these sensational words in a science book. Dr. Miodownik offers up this scandalous description of what happens after you pop a piece of dark chocolate in your mouth. Miodownik teaches material science at University College London. He did a marvelous job at making this book accessible and entertaining. The book starts with a photo of Miodownik reading a book and drinking tea out of a porcelain cup at a steel table surrounded by potted plants on top of a concrete rooftop. The book is divided into 11 chapters. Each chapter discusses one of the materials in the picture. What I especially like about this book is that Miodownik weaves personal anecdotes, stories of families and friends, throughout the book. Miodowink had worked for the US government in a nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico in the late 1990s. He shares experiences of being scrutinized as a British citizen with a low level of security clearance. I found the stories amusing and it reminded me of the Manhattan Project.
Each chapter can be read individually. My favorite chapters are paper, food, glass and concrete. Miodownik has clever chapter names as well. For example Chapter 1: Indomitable, Chapter 2: Trusted and Chapter 9: Refined are chapters on steel, paper and porcelain, respectively. Miodownik makes it enjoyable to learn about the history and key scientists behind the development of the materials. Analysis of each material’s structure, properties, and uses is also explained in layman’s terms. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in material science or history of science in general.