Before the microscope thinkers had speculated about what the world is made of at the minutest level. The miroscope introduced evidence for the first time and it has revolutionised our knowledge of the world and the organisms that inhabit it. In the seventeenth century the pioneering work of two scientists, the Dutchman Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke in England, revealed the teeming microscopic world that exists at scales beyond the capabilities of the naked eye. Hooke published his Micrographia in 1665, ( which showed, among many things, the structure of insect eyes and plant cells.

The microscope became an essential component of scientific enquiry by the nineteenth century, but in the 1930s a German physicist, Ernst Ruska, discovered that by using a beam of electrons he could view structures much tinier than was possible using visible light. Today light and electron microscopy are among the most powerful tools at the disposal of modern science, and new techniques are still being developed.

Now, from plastics to smart materials to never-before-seen composites, scientists have been able to transform the raw materials of the wilderness into the stuff of the modern world. Award-winning journalist Ivan Amato explores this fascinating science. Prehistory was stuck in the Stone Age partly because it lacked the scientific know-how to smelt iron from rocky ores. The Industrial Revolution owed its birth to the geniuses who figured out how to make large amounts of steel. Postwar America can thank or hang in effigy John Wesley Hyatt, who gave us plastics. The most important factor in technological progress today is the ability of the materials scientist to take apart and reconfigure the physical stuff of the world into substances that have never existed naturally on Earth. Much more than a history of the material sciences, Stuff brims with interviews with cutting-edge experts in the field, many of whom are building new materials literally atom by atom, and describes such astounding achievements as artificial diamonds created from peanut butter and how nanotechnologists are building new-age, state-of-the-art machines no thicker than a few hundred atoms. Compelling and informative, it gives readers a marvelous glimpse into the modern world of technology and the smart materials that are at the forefront of tomorrow’s breakthroughs in computers, military weaponry, electronics, and more. Published 1998.


Listen to the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time broadcast in November 2013 on the microscope available as a podcast at  Illuminating contributions from Jim Bennett (Visiting Keeper at the Science Museum), Sir Colin Humphreys (Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge) and Michelle Peckham (Professor of Cell Biology at Leeds)


304 pages in Bard paperback edition

ISBN 978-0380731534


Ivan Amato

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