Organic Photovoltaics for Indoor Applications
Jianwei (John) Miao, MRS Innovation in Materials Characterization Award Recipient

How Materials Shaped Us

Ainissa Ramirez

Author of The Alchemy of Us

Ainissa Ramirez gave a very compelling talk based on her new book The Alchemy of Us, where she shows how everyday inventions had a hand in shaping language, politics, and even our bodies. Ramirez advocates “storytelling” as a way to successfully discuss materials science with the general public. Through stories, abstract scientific concepts take a meaningful place in their impact on society. For example, materials development that enabled the invention of the telegraph subsequently affected language structure, and artificial lighting has affected human health.

One of the attendees brought up the topic of Li-ion batteries, “When we talk about lithium cobalt oxide for a Li-ion battery, we talk about how good of a cathode it is right now, but that the major source of cobalt in the world has been the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a lot of that comes from child labor.” The attendee further asked Ramirez, “Do you think that by reformatting or reformulating this narrative, we can actually allow for the creation of [a generation of] more ethical scientists?”

“That’s my mission right now,” Ramirez responded. “That’s the reason why I wrote The Alchemy of Us,” she said.

Another ethical question Ramirez brought up—for which she does not have an answer—is about her last chapter called “Think.” Ramirez said that the Internet and silicon devices are altering the way we think. For example, instead of memorizing phone numbers, we pull them from our digital devices. “We now prioritize where the information is instead of what the information is,” she said. The reason this is significant, Ramirez said, is that “if we are creative beings, we need to have the information in our head, simmering in our subconscious, so that we can spit it out in new ways.” Researchers are currently studying the effect of these devices on how we innovate.

See a review of The Alchemy of Us in MRS Bulletin.

Blogger: Judy Meiksin

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