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Sensitive Matter

"Sensitive Matter - Foams, Gels, Liquid Crystals, and Other Miracles"

A book by Michel Mitov

Preface by Jean-Claude Carrière

Harvard University Press (2012).


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.


Extracted from reviews :

An excellent guide to the labyrinthine world of soft matter.— Nature


Mitov has a light touch, writing like the hip, pop-culture–loving, corduroy-jacket–wearing chemistry teacher that you always wanted but never had.— The Washington Post

Recommended. Readers come away from the book with a renewed appreciation for the complexity of such everyday substances as champagne, rubber and toothpaste.— Scientific American

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, essayist

Champagne bubbles, mayonnaise, rubber, blood and sand are part of the eclectic mix of materials explored in Sensitive Matter. Mitov applies his vivid imagination to explaining how soft materials respond to disturbances. It is a quirky and fun introduction to this practical, complex field.— Nature

Michel Mitov’s delightful book is well-written, easy to understand and a lot of fun. It will appeal even to those who have just a fleeting interest in science.—Current Science India

This book is part of the joyous science.— France Culture radio channel

A must-read.— Radio France Internationale

Making use of anecdotes or historical facts and not disdaining humor, the author has managed to make this book not only informative but also and especially captivating. It is rare for a researcher to write such an informative book that reads like a novel !— Roberval Prize Jury

An inventory of the little wonders of this world where we come out less stupid than before.— NouvelObs.com

Here is a little book that devours itself and not only because it is about mayonnaise, champagne or jelly meat.— Sciences et Avenir magazine

Attractive and well written. The contents are entirely understandable by everyone. - Bulletin of the Union of Teachers of Physics and Chemistry, France

A work that gives back its letters of nobility to the topic, in its various forms. — Claudie Haigneréphysician and astronaut

It is an excellent book that is really nice to read.— Henri Broch, physicist, writer

I recommend the super-stimulating reading of these captivating chapters, and the quality of the style when Mitov relates us his Italian stays to the heights of the most picturesque supernatural. A book debunking taboos, because too many subjects deserve a rational look like that of the author.— Yves Bouligand, biologist

Beautiful educational work !  Michel Chevalet, science journalist