Stuff Matters (2013) is an adventure into the seemingly humdrum stuff we encounter daily. Materials scientist Mark Miodownik delves into the true makeup of modern materials, and invites you to look at your surrounding world through new eyes.
From the pencils we write with to the steel utensils we use to eat, every day we encounter countless man-made items. But what are these objects actually made of? In fact, the answer depends on the scale at which you’re examining the object in.
At first glance, they may seem like monolithic, single-piece units, but look a little closer and you’ll find that the material is usually made up of an intricate arrangement of smaller parts that interlock perfectly. A sweater is made of tightly woven threads, for example. And if you examine those smaller parts more closely, you’ll find that they too are made up of even smaller parts, much like a Russian nesting doll.
Unfortunately, the naked eye cannot reveal more about your sweater, but a powerful microscope would show the individual fibers that make up these threads. Looking even deeper, you’d see that the fibers consist of hundreds of thousands of molecules, and, finally, atoms.
These molecular and atomic levels of detail are important, because changes there can have a profound effect.
For example, consider that though they look completely different, both diamonds and the graphite found in pencils are made up of carbon. The difference in appearance arises from the fact that on a molecular level, the carbon atoms are arranged differently in each material: graphite contains atoms arranged in sheets, whereas in diamonds they are in a cubic structure.
So, as far as materials are concerned, remember that there’s much more to them than meets the eye.