In the first episode of Everyday Miracles, Mark begins his discovery by looking at our homes.
Today, we all live like kings and queens! Our homes are comfortable pleasure palaces, filled with comfortable furniture, countless electronic gadgets and labour saving devices. There is light and heat at the touch of a button, and the world is brought to us through television, radio and the web. This modern miracle happens because we’ve all amassed a dazzling array of stuff – a collection of metals, plastics, liquid crystals, plastics and ceramics, all assembled in very precise ways.
Mark begins by looking at foam rubber. It’s everywhere – whatever you’re sitting on, there’s almost certainly foam involved. Even airline meal trays are made from foam. In the lab, Mark shows how foam was discovered – by mistake – in the 1930s.
The razor blade was invented by King Camp Gillette in 1901, who claimed that he had saved the US economy $4.5m in time saved by not having to visit the barber’s shop. But he couldn’t have done it without a new mass production technique and an insight into how to harden steel.
Steel is iron with carbon in it – and when it come to materials, two things are very often far better than one. Composites have hugely improved our lot. Concrete reinforced with steel has transformed what architects can do with space and light – and plywood’s strength and versatility has improved the scope of the furniture designer and even brought us record breaking aircraft.
Plastics is perhaps the single biggest breakthrough material of the 20th century. It’s utterly ubiquitous – and that’s because it’s so versatile. Mark reminds us that plastic is nowadays something that even clothes us, showing us how nylon is made.
Watch Everyday Miracles on BBC Four
You can watch this episode on Tuesday 19 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.