Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Podcast: Stuff Matters


Image: Mark Miodownik
Materials scientist Mark Miodownik's book Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World was recently published in the United States. It's a great look at the science and stories behind the seemingly mundane substances that make up almost everything, and the subject of this week's podcast.

But what exactly is a materials scientist, and what do they do? Answering that is actually tough. There's countless ways to develop a new material because really, almost anything can be a material. When I was talking with Miodownik, he pointed out that when a baker bakes bread, that's taking one material, dough, applying a process to it and turning it into something with totally different properties, bread. That's the essence of materials science.

However to do the real cutting-edge research usually takes a bit more equipment. Things like electron microscopes, x-ray diffraction systems, spectrographs and nanotechnology are helping scientists push the boundaries of what's possible. Of course all that takes quite a bit of capital to set up, which is why Miodownik helped establish The Institute of Making, a research club for people who invent new materials to work and meet up with the engineers, architects, artists and fashion designers who would end up using them. Their extensive materials library brings fundamental science to the business world. It's where designers and engineers can find the exotic building materials needed for a their specific purpose. It's not the only one either, there are similar libraries and institutes all over the world.

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