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Sensitive Matter

Sensitive Matter

Foams, Gels, Liquid Crystals, and Other Miracles

Michel Mitov

Translated by Giselle Weiss

ISBN 9780674064560

Publication date: 04/10/2012

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Life would not exist without sensitive, or soft, matter. All biological structures depend on it, including red blood globules, lung fluid, and membranes. So do industrial emulsions, gels, plastics, liquid crystals, and granular materials. What makes sensitive matter so fascinating is its inherent versatility. Shape-shifting at the slightest provocation, whether a change in composition or environment, it leads a fugitive existence.

Physicist Michel Mitov brings drama to molecular gastronomy (as when two irreconcilable materials are mixed to achieve the miracle of mayonnaise) and offers answers to everyday questions, such as how does paint dry on canvas, why does shampoo foam better when you “repeat,” and what allows for the controlled release of drugs? Along the way we meet a futurist cook, a scientist with a runaway imagination, and a penniless inventor named Goodyear who added sulfur to latex, quite possibly by accident, and created durable rubber.

As Mitov demonstrates, even religious ritual is a lesson in the surprising science of sensitive matter. Thrice yearly, the reliquary of St. Januarius is carried down cobblestone streets from the Cathedral to the Church of St. Clare in Naples. If all goes as hoped—and since 1389 it often has—the dried blood contained in the reliquary’s largest vial liquefies on reaching its destination, and Neapolitans are given a reaffirming symbol of renewal.

Praise

  • This book is a delight. With grace, poise and precision, Michel Mitov makes the case that there is as much wonder and challenging science in the behavior of everyday substances—egg white, toothpaste, sand, soap foam—as there is in the most esoteric experiments in particle physics. Sensitive matter could wish for no more sensitive, no more responsive and intelligent, a champion.

    —Philip Ball, author of Made to Measure and Molecules: A Very Short Introduction

Author

  • Michel Mitov is Director of Research at CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, France) and Head of Liquid Crystal Group at CEMES (Centre d’Elaboration de Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales) in Toulouse

Book Details

  • 208 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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