In this episode of Everyday Miracles, Mark goes beyond our lives at home to explore materials that have had a huge impact on our ability to get around and explore our planet – and even our universe.
Mark reveals, the bicycle, thought by us as a basic form of transport, was a dead loss until 1888 when the right materials arrived; namely, reliable steel production and the ability to make seamless steel tubing collided with pneumatic tyres. For the first time, bicycles were light and comfortable and easy to use.
Then along came the car but travelling at speed was very uncomfortable. Thank goodness then for glass to shield you from the wind but its tendency to shatter into shards was not ideal. In the lab, Mark shows us ‘Prince Rupert’s Drops’, exploding droplets of glass which enables safety glass. Glass lenses and ‘pyrex’ backed reflector mirrors in telescopes have given us an understanding of scale, from discovering microbes in the water, to measuring the size of the universe.
Mark meets a teenage para-athlete to discover how carbon fibre composites have transformed the lot of amputees like him – not just on the track, but across the board in prosthetics. He shows why carbon fibre has become the “go to” material whenever weight, strength and flexibility are critical factors in the performance of a product.
Finally Mark visits the Firth of Forth outside Edinburgh, to see how our understanding of materials has impacted on civil engineering projects like bridge building. At the site of the new Forth crossing, Mark discovers how the new bridge’s design and construction has moved on from the that of the previous two.
Watch Everyday Miracles on BBC Four
You can watch this episode on Tuesday 26 August at 9:00pm on BBC Four. More information, details of broadcast and links to watch online when available can be found on the BBC website.