Measure for measure

Editorial on the redefinition of the kilogram, Nature Materials 18, 299, April 2019. Available here.

Materials of the future

Materials of the future: an article for the UNESCO Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems (2001). Download PDF

A chapter for the UNESCO Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems, 2001
Philip Ball – Consultant Editor, Nature, London, UK


1. Introduction
2. Synthesis and Processing
3. Biomedical Materials
4. Smart Materials
5. Biomimetics and Self-assembly
6. Nanoscale Materials and Assembly
7. Future Information Technologies
8. Display Technology
9. Ultrastrong Fibers
10. Materials Made To Measure

Smart materials

Smart materials: a talk delivered at the University of Oxford, 2002.
Download PDF or Word Doc + PowerPoint Presentation (ZIP file 8.5Mb)

SMART STUFF by Philip Ball.
A talk delivered at the Department of Materials, University of Oxford
on an Open Day for school teachers

This talk is accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation

Materials science isn’t what it used to be. Once, when we spoke about materials, we were speaking about fabrics – passive stuff to be cut and shaped and formed into components for structures and machines. Wooden beams, stone blocks, metal sheets and girders, plastic utensils (images): these were substances that were required simply to be, rather than to do. You wanted a material that would change as little as possible: that wouldn’t swell, or corrode, or bend, or vibrate. All the engineering of a device or a structure was concentrated in the way the parts were put together.

Now things are different. Many of the advanced materials at the forefront of materials science are functional: they are required to do things, to undergo purposeful change. They play an active part in the way the structure or device works. …

Smart stuff: R.I. Christmas Lectures

Smart stuff: the text for the booklet accompanying the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2002.

SMART STUFF by Philip Ball – A booklet to accompany

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2002
Delivered by Professor Tony Ryan, December 2002

Lecture 1: The Spider That Spun a Suspension Bridge

Imagine this: a team of engineers arrives to build a bridge across a gorge, but they have no lorries filled with materials. Instead, they eat a hearty breakfast and then begin to pull sticky cables out of their bottoms. Leaping from one side of the chasm to the other, they create a criss-crossing web of cables, each one stronger than steel. If they make a mistake, putting a cable in the wrong place, they simply eat it up and start again.

Because we are not spiders (and not Spiderman either), we’ll never be able to build bridges this way. But this is how a spider makes its web. It can’t dig up iron ore and turn it into steel cables. It has to work with materials made within its own body, put together from the atoms and molecules in the food it eats. Yet despite all our technological capability, we still can’t make a fibre that has all the good points of spider silk. …

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