Skip to main content

Mark Miodownik – Four Way Interview

Mark is an engineer and materials scientist. He is the Professor of Materials and Society at UCL where he teaches and runs a research group. His research areas include self-assembling materials, self-healing materials, psychophysical properties of materials. Mark is the Director of the Institute of Making which is a multidisciplinary research club for those interested in the made world: from makers of molecules to makers of buildings, synthetic skin to spacecraft, soup to clothes, furniture to cities. Mark is a broadcaster and writer on science and engineering issues, and believes passionately that to engineer is human. He gave the 2010 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, and is a regular presenter of science and engineering BBC TV programmes. Mark’s first book is Stuff Matters.
Why science?
I got stabbed, and became obsessed. Not with science, but first with knives and then the stuff they were made from. I noticed materials everywhere and went a bit mad, they call it OCD these days. Everything is made from something I realised, but noone talked about those somethings…and well, I wanted to know what they were. Materials Science which is the systematic study of how physics, chemistry, biology and engineering create stuff, caught my attention, and thats what I do.
Why this book?
Materials Science is not the whole story about stuff. It took me twenty years to really understand that, and so thats why I wrote the book, to show that materials are more than technology, they are a kind of reflection of who we are as a society. The ages of civilisation are named after materials: the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, and so it is now, only its a lot more complicated. Unpicking where all this stuff came from and what it means is the point of my book.
What’s next?
Along with a very talented team at UCL we have created an institute that is a physical embodiment of the philosophy of the book. Its called the Institute of Making. We aim to show that making is not just technologically important, but also is an important part of being human.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
The maker movement is really getting going, Fab labs, Hack Spaces, MakeSpaces are all coming to a neighbourhood near you soon!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…