From atomic structures to theories about magnetic forces, scientific progress has given us a good grasp on the properties of many different materials. However, most scientists cannot measure the temperature of steel just by looking at it, or sculpt stone into all kinds of shapes, or know how it feels to blow up a balloon of glass. Handmade is the story of materials through making and doing. Author and material scientist Anna Ploszajski journeys into the domain of makers and craftspeople to comprehend how the most popular materials really work. With knowledge accumulated over generations through hands-on trial and error, these experimenters and tinkerers understand the materiality of objects far better than any scientist with a textbook.
You might know Dr Anna Ploszajski from her ‘rial talk podcast, or her TED talk, or her various Science Showoff videos. I was lucky enough to catch one of her stand-up sets at EMF a few years ago and have been a fan ever since.
This is a surprisingly personal and autobiographical book – I was expecting a bit more of a dry textbook, but was excited to find out that it was so much more. At times it is frighteningly intimate, all the while relating the academic back to the personal.
The book feels like a multi-part YouTube series. It has lots of fascinating places and local characters, and exciting adventures hitting things and breaking them. It doesn’t require too much background knowledge in physics to understand what’s going on. Famously, Stephen Hawking was told that every equation in “A Brief History of Time” would halve sales and Dr Ploszajski seems to have taken that advice on board. It could benefit from a few illustrations – I found it a bit hard to visualise exactly how hexagonal sheets of molecules might actually look, for example.
Some of the chapters covered material I was already familiar with, but she always found a new angle to interest me. It’s a beautiful book about the structure of “stuff” – but it also so much more than that. Science isn’t just white-coated boffins stuck in a lab. It is real people, doing amazing things, doing boring things, doing unusual things – all trying to make sense of our little planet.
It isn’t a textbook – it is a manifesto for diving into the world and getting your hands messy.
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy. The book is released in a few weeks and can be pre-ordered using the following links: