From the earliest tool created from a single piece of stone, more than 2.5 million years ago, to advanced robotics connected to the human nervous system, the history of human civilization is a history of materials. Today more than ever we need to use materials intelligently to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

The Secret Life of Materials takes us on a journey where we meet the pioneers of material science and reveal their extraordinary discoveries that are transforming the world around us.

In the heat of the Mediterranean a new material created from printed, natural human protein promises energy free clean water for the farmers on Crete, who are struggling with lack of water in a changing climate.

On the other side of Europe, a violin-maker challenges the limits of materials technology to emulate the behavior of wood in his quest to produce the first 3D-printed violin. Can he work with the experts in 3D printing to put his traditional violin-making skills to the test and make a violin good enough for a leading violinist to perform with in front of a critical audience?

Travel to the very edge of the Arctic Circle and meet the first real-life cyborg, with a bionic arm connected directly to his nervous system. We witness the efforts of the scientists and engineers to help him uncover the most indefinable of the human senses, the sense of touch.

In South America there is the shiniest object that nature has created. It is the metallic blue Pollia berry. Its shimmering color, produced simply from the special structure of its cellulose, is helping scientists to create colors with the very same nanostructures in an effort to make toxic dyes obsolete.

In Italy an extraordinary demonstration takes us to the very edge of where materials science is taking us today. We blur the line between living and non-living as we witness synthetic biological cells seeking out a chemical food-source and interacting with its surroundings. It’s the first step towards self-healing and responsive material that will help us build a future material world that will live and grow around us, just as the natural world does today.

We are living on the cusp of a revolution: The Age of the Material… where we are learning to use the basic building blocks of nature. Master this ability and anything is possible.

Materials Science is set to define the next century of human history, and it promises to revolutionize every aspect of our lives.

60 minutes / color / 2015


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