Monday, 3 June 2013

Book review - "Stuff Matters" by Mark Miodownik

Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World 

Mark Miodownik
Viking (6 Jun 2013)
ISBN-10: 0670920541
ISBN-13: 978-0670920549
Buy on

Like most of the generations of metallurgists and materials scientists since the late 1940s, one of the first books the author would have read as an undergraduate was Street and Alexander's Metals in the Service of Man, or simply MITSOM, the staple introduction to our subject for over half a century. Stuff Matters is Mark Miodownik’s attempt to bring materials science (no longer just metallurgy) a public audience through the medium of paper - and no doubt e-Reader Ironically, after the first couple of pages, the reader might very well be pondering whether the book wouldn't have been better entitled Metals in the Disservice of Man (or MITDOM), as Miodownik describes an early and somewhat painful encounter with steel. Forgiveness is swift however, and he spends the next chapter extolling its many virtues, describing its array of different properties and applications and how the material continues to re-invent itself into the 21st Century.

Suggestion for additional chapter on wood :-)
The author uses a picture taken of himself sitting on his roof garden as a means of introducing the different types of materials through short vignettes; never attempting to cover the entire spectrum of those materials, but instead focussing on stories that will hopefully grab the attention of young students and the general public alike. Besides steel, materials covered include the familiar (paper, concrete, ceramics, polymers and glass), the exotic (aerogels, graphene and biomaterials) and the unashamedly tasty – chocolate, which many readers will be surprised to learn is a very highly engineered foodstuff requiring materials science expertise for its production.

For me, the one slightly disappointing omission is that of wood, which I think is deserving of its own chapter. Sitting beside me, waiting patiently for my attention, are my much-treasured Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster. These instruments provided not just two of the most iconic cultural shapes of the late 20th Century, but also its soundtrack (though sadly not by my hand). Stradivarius and Steinway can reasonably lay claim to an even greater impact on human culture, largely through their mastery of a natural material that was almost certainly one of homo sapien’s first object of study in materials science.

But that aside, Stuff Matters is a great read. The delivery is personal, often humorous, and Miodownik allows his materials to speak up for themselves. In this sense, the book is a natural extension of his recent work on television and also of the recently opened Institute of Making. Whilst I won't be throwing my own copy of MITSOM away any time soon, he has successfully taken the baton to produce a book that should continue to attract and engage new generations of materials scientists for, who knows, another half a century - providing the advances in biomaterials he describes in the final chapters can keep him intact for that long.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Kritikos article

I've written a short piece about Kritikos, entitled Identifying resources for students, by students for a JISC blog.

Kritikos is a customised search engine for visual media relevant to Engineering education, aimed at reducing the time required to find useful resources for study and for teaching. To achieve this goal, we:
  • Use the power of Google Custom Search™ by using asearch engine dedicated to engineering education
  • Present the results visually as a gallery of thumbnail images
  • Overlay information shared by other students and teachers relating to the usefulness of the resource in their subject.
This project was initially funded as part of JISC's Content Programme 2011-13 and developed by the Engineering and Materials Education Research Group (EMERG) at the University of Liverpool.

MeLT provided consultancy for the technical development of the Kritikos site. We also developed a video explaining the backround, aims and outcomes of the project.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

7th steeluniversity Challenge Final

Today MeLT was in Brussels attending the grand final of the 7th WorldSteel steeluniversity challenge, having been responsible for developing and adapting the simulation software specially for the event.

Winners of Round 1 from industry and student categories attended from China, Taiwan, India, Slovenia, the UK, Brazil and Canada. The teams were challenged to make a cast of 'virtual' steel suitable for earth moving equipment to the correct specification and at minimum cost.

Congratulations to all who took part and especially to the winners:
  • Student champions: Andraž Bradeško and Anže Tekavčič, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Industry champions: Manjunathan Mohan and Chandra Prakash Sankar, Tata Steel Ltd., India
For the full story, read the official WorldSteel press release here.

YouTube video by WorldSteel

Flickr slideshow of the event. Licensed under CC-BY-SA by WorldSteel

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

7th steeluniversity Challenge

The 7th annual steeluniversity Challenge is about the get underway at 12:00 GMT Tue 13 Nov 2012. This year, entrants are challenged to remelt scrap metal in the electric arc furnace to produce structural steel suitable for earth moving equipment.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Recrystallisation module published on

Over the past few months, MeLT has been developing a new interactive e-Learning module for entitled Recrystallization.

The module introduces the collective phenomena of recovery, recrystallization and grain growth that cause work-hardened metals to soften during annealing and other high temperatures treatments. The module includes interactive simulations of these processes. It also looks how thermomechanical treatments (TMT) have been developed to produce steels of superior strength and toughness.

In addition to these core topics, sections dealing with nucleation & growth, partial dislocations, stacking fault energy and cross-slip and crystallographic texture are also provided.

Monday, 16 April 2012

SSI Redcar reopens Blast Furnace

Great to hear that iron and steelmaking is making a return to Teesside after a couple of years break.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

MathJax - Beautiful Math in all Browsers

We have recently started making extensive use of MathJax, an open source display engine for rendering mathematics in web pages that seems to work well in all modern browsers.

It hasn't come a moment too soon, as to date we have usually had to resort to creating bitmap images for all equations, which has been far from satisfactory.

By entering LaTeX expressions in the HTML source code, we now get nicely rendered mathematical expressions. Here are a few examples for the metallurgists amongst you:
$$\sigma_\text{y}=\sigma_0 + k_\text{y} d^{-1/2}$$ $$D=D_0 \exp(–Q_\text{d}/RT)$$ $$X = 1 - \exp\Big[-0.693\Big({t \over t_{0.5}}\Big)^k\Big]$$