Engineer takes an atomic-level look at plastics, glass, chocolate and more
MIKE LEWINSKI/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26
To capture tiny flecks of comet dust whizzing through space, NASA scientists on the 1999 Stardust mission turned to silica aerogel. Aerogel’s fine, glassy skeleton brought cosmic particles traveling at 18,000 kilometers per hour to a dead stop without damaging them, trapping the raw components of the solar system and transporting them home for study. It’s also an incredible insulator, since its porous structure puts up an effective barrier to heat. Not bad for something that’s 99.8 percent air.