“Marvellous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World”

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

stuff matters cover What would we do without man-made materials?  We can’t live without them these days.

Mark Miodownik, whom some of you may recognise from his regular TV appearances on Dara O’Briain’s Science Club on BBC2, wants to tells us all about the things our man-made world is shaped from. Mark, like me (!), is a materials scientist. Unlike me, he’s a practising one, being a Professor of the subject at UCL in London.  In his book, published last year, now available in paperback with this gorgeous cover, he wants to persuade us that ‘Stuff Matters’.

Further down this post, you’ll find a competition to win a copy of the book plus a signed poster of the cover.

In the introduction, he explains to us where his fascination with materials came from and it’s a grim start. As a teenager, he was badly slashed with a super-sharp razor-blade by a mugger on the London underground, and couldn’t believe that a small blade could cut through five layers of clothing and so deeply through the skin of his back as he escaped.

mark miodownikIn the following chapters, he takes us through the development of some of the fundamental materials in our lives like steel, paper and concrete; materials that help us as we age, entertain us at leisure; also some of the most interesting new ones like aerogel and nanotechnology.

He’s great at explaining complex subjects making things like how the faults in the crystal structure of metal alloys are what helps to make it strong seem straight forward, (although at uni-level I remember struggling with atomic planes and dislocations at first) and that’s no mean feat. This is a wonderful tour around the world of materials science, it’s entertaining, full of facts, and easy to read. Mark makes for good company on the page and I heartily recommend it. (9/10)

Now for the giveaway:

Thanks to those lovely people at Penguin, I have a copy of Mark’s book and a signed poster of the book cover to giveaway.  I’m afraid it’s open to UK residents only.  Just leave a comment below – and if you like, tell me your favourite material that things can be made of, but that’s not compulsory. We’ll draw a winner at Wednesday tea-time.  Good luck!

I shall leave you with a clip of the front cover being assembled.

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Source: Publisher – thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik, pub Penguin 2013, paperback 272 pages.

If you found Stuff Matters fascinating, you might be interested in the book below. The second edition, published in 1976, is still in print and still used today. It was the one book I was told I had to read before going up to university, and it was fascinating.

The New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don’t Fall Through the Floor (Penguin Science) by J.E.Gordon, pub Penguin, paperback.


What a Wonderful World – the Blog Tour stops here today…

What a Wonderful World jacketToday science writer Marcus Chown’s blog tour to promote his book What a Wonderful World: One Man’s Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff, stops here!

Marcus is the cosmology consultant of New Scientist magazine, and has published several successful popular science volumes which have delighted science enthusiasts on cosmology, quantum physics, and other physics concepts, (see my previous posts here and here).

Now Marcus is branching out from just physics. Read on to see a short quiz, and find out how you can win a copy. But first, let Marcus introduce the book to you …

Chown Marcus 2013 (c) Eleanor CrowWhat A Wonderful World is my attempt to explain everything – from finance to thermodynamics, sex to special relativity, human evolution to holography – in straight-forward, accessible, everyday language. My hope is that, if everything has passed you by in a high-speed blur, my book will quickly and painlessly bring you up to speed on how the world of the 21st century works. Of course, I haven’t really covered everything. Think of it as my attempt to explain everything… volume 1!

All this ‘big stuff’ is divided into five parts:  How we work, Putting matter to work, Earth works, Deep workings, and The Cosmic Connection. I’ve not quite finished reading the book, so my review will follow – but as non-biologist (I’m a materials scientist by trade), I can confirm that the first section did indeed bring me up to speed in many areas.

Meanwhile, Marcus has supplied me with a little quiz for you – you may find the answers surprising.  If you highlight the text at the bottom of the post, they will be revealed.

Q1: The microchips in every phone and pretty much every electronic device in the world were designed in:

a)   England
b)   USA
c)    South Korea

Q2: While reading this question your body will build how many cells?

a)   30 million
b)   30 thousand
c)   30

Q3: There was no improvement in the design of stone hand-axes for:

a)    14,000 years
b)   140,000 years
c)   1.4 million years

* * * GIVEAWAY TIME! * * *

If this has intrigued you, the publishers are kindly supplying three copies of Marcus’s book as a giveaway.  Sadly, this is open to UK addresses only. It will close at teatime on October 15th, when my newly teenaged daughter (can you explain where the time goes Marcus?!) will do her pulling the names out of the hat trick.

Just comment below, and if you’d like to share any quirky scientific fact, name your favourite scientist, or make any science-based observation, you’re welcome, but don’t feel obliged to!

It just remains for me to thank Marcus, and wish him all the best with the new book.

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The ‘What a Wonderful World Blog Tour‘ continues, visiting these sites:

13th October – Keris Stainton
14th October – Teen Librarian
15th October – Penguin Galaxy
16th October – Open Democracy

Quiz Answers – highlight to reveal: Q1: a) England Q2: a) 30 million Q3: c) 1.4 million years.

For popular science book fans …

WhatWonderfulWorldblogtour2A little bit of advance publicity. Marcus Chown writes for New Scientist, and has a new book coming out on October 3rd. It’s called What a Wonderful World: One Man’s Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff, and I’m delighted to be taking part in his blog tour.  You can see all the blogs taking part here – Chown Blog Tour poster.

Chown is one of my favourite science writers, and I did a Q&A post with him when his previous book We Need to Talk About Kelvin: What everyday things tell us about the universe was published. Click here to see the Q&A, and here for that book review.

I’m currently in the middle of his new book, and I’m enjoying it very much.  The review will follow in due course, and I hope you’ll join me on the tour on October 12th.

Through the keyhole …

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About Youby Sam Gosling

I defy any browsing bibliomane not to pick this book up on seeing the arrangements of books and comfy armchair through the keyhole on its cover!

I’m sure that you, like me, sniff out the bookcases as soon as you go in someone’s house. If they do have lots of books, I believe you can get a feel for their owner(s), and even the most  dedicated library user will have some evidence of their bookish loves.

Snoop is, of course, about much more than bookshelves.  Gosling is an English-born Professor of Psychology in Texas, and his speciality is a kind of benign psychological profiling by looking at peoples’ possessions.  In particular, he researches into correlations between the big five personality traits: Conscientiousness, Openness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, and the stuff we own and how we treat and display it.

Initially, he recruited and trained a team of ‘snoopers’ and set them to work on volunteer students’ rooms. He ended up later on national television comparing the rooms of TV news anchormen. In between, there is loads of psychological discussion of the subject and case studies (all American).

Gosling is an entertaining teacher – his writing is straight-forward and free from jargon.  It’s also witty, and being a Brit, he is self-deprecating – we gradually get a picture of him too from his descriptions of his own stuff, (no TV – Shock!).

I was entertained, but was I transformed into a super-snooper?  For a man who  has spent his professional career trying to read peoples’ posessions, Gosling has largely proved how inexact it all really is!

  • You can only really deduce information about conscientiousness (how tidy you are) and openness (generally evidenced by a wide range of books, music, etc). You can tell tidy from tidied.
  • Stereotypes are useful initially, but be prepared to dump them – there are too many exceptions to the rule.
  • Popular musical tastes are largely irrelevant.
  • How can you tell whether the ‘you’ through the things you display is the real one?
  • You can be wrong-tracked as a snooper by stuff not belonging to the snoopee, just left behind or being looked after.
  • As a snooper, you need to be familiar with the cultural mores and brand awareness of the snoopee to get the most information out of it.  There’s no point in looking at someone’s music and film collections or make-up bag if you haven’t heard of the artists or brands.

I quite like pop science books, so I enjoyed dipping into this one. I haven’t learned much, and it certainly won’t stop me from snooping at other people’s bookcases, which I find usually give a clear indication of intellectual pursuits!  (6.5/10)

Do you enjoy snooping around other peoples’ bookcases?  Bet you do!

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About Youby Sam Gosling, pub 2009 by Profile Books, 288 pages.