STUFF: The Materials the World Is Made Of by Ivan Amato

STUFF: The Materials the World Is Made Of

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Materials science sees the world as fodder for new and better structural materials; here's an overview of this new discipline. Amato, whose articles have appeared in Science News and the Washington Post, begins by looking at the paper, ink, and glue of a printed book. These are highly refined products, the result of a long history of research and development, much of it by trial and error. Technological history, from flint-knapping through the smelting of ores to the development of synthetics in the 19th century, shows how our handling of natural raw materials has grown increasingly sophisticated. By the 20th century, scientists were learning how matter actually works on the atomic level: Quantum mechanics and electron microscopy offered hints as to why ceramic is brittle and graphite slippery, and how those characteristics might be altered or improved. The development of synthetic rubber during WW II showed the need for a coherent science of materials, combining the techniques and insights of many disciplines. The space program fueled the search for new, lighter, more resilient materials. Amato examines recent and projected developments in the field. Some researchers have created ceramics that mimic the microstructure of abalone shells; others are exploring ways to form artificial diamond into films, or to synthesize materials even harder than diamond. ""Smart"" materials--a familiar example is sunglass lenses that darken in brighter light--are among the hottest new areas of research. Other researchers are content to improve existing materials: Fiber-optic cables required glass of unprecedented transparency. Our technological future, Amato suggests, may be as far beyond our present as we are beyond the flint-knappers of Paleolithic times. It is a heady time for this new discipline, and Amato gives a good sense of its energy and potential.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1997
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Basic