Are Advanced Materials Safe? A new seven-part series of videos on the benefits and risks of novel materials

by Ishani Hewage on June 25, 2013

What are advanced materials, and are they safe? Over the next seven weeks, Risk Science Center Director Andrew Maynard will be posting a series of short videos on the Risk Bites YouTube channel that takes a look at our love affair with materials, and the challenges – and opportunities – of ensuring today’s increasingly advanced materials are as safe as possible. Catch the videos each Tuesday at

From the cars we drive to the roads we drive on, the glass of our windscreen and the bulbs in our tail lights, advanced materials are impacting on our lives in often unseen but profound ways

Over the past one hundred years, there has been a revolution in how we design and engineer materials. With the discovery of how the arrangement of atoms in everything from metals to proteins affects their behavior, researchers have been creating increasingly sophisticated materials. There’s been a steady rise in new and improved materials for centuries, but in recent years the rate with which we have begun to invent increasingly advanced materials has risen exponentially. New scientific understanding and techniques are now making it easier, faster and cheaper to create esoteric materials with properties that would have been considered science fiction just a few years ago.

This materials revolution stands to be a pivotal point in human history, as we flex our ability to design and engineer materials from the constituent atoms up.  These materials often demonstrate amazing properties – from being incredibly strong and light, to changing their behavior in response to their environment, to enabling disruptive advances in computing.  But are they safe? Or do the same novel properties that make them so valuable lead to unanticipated consequences that we are ill-equipped to handle?

Making sense of the potential and pitfalls of advanced materials is only possible if we know something about how material properties affect their ability to do harm, and how this applies to emerging innovative materials.  And this is where the Risk Bites series on materials comes in.

This series of short, informative videos is aimed at providing anyone who isn’t a materials hotshot or a science geek with enough smarts to ask intelligent questions about the advanced materials appearing in their lives over the next few years.

The series includes:

Part 1: A Brief History of Materials (June 25)
Part 2: Designer materials and 20th Century Innovation (July 2)
Part 3: Frontiers in Advanced Materials (July 9)
Part 4: Advanced Material and Risk – an Introduction (July 16)
Part 5: What Makes Advanced Materials Potentially Harmful (July 23)
Part 6: Novel Behavior and Novel Risk (July 30)
Part 7: Creating Advanced Materials that are Safe by Design (August 7)

To catch the whole series, please subscribe to Risk Bites at or watch them below:

Risk Bites videos are short, informative and entertaining videos that explore the science behind risks to human health. Typically less than 3 – 4 minutes long, They are aimed at anyone with an interest into what causes harm and what we can do about it – no prior knowledge needed!  View them at

Risk Bites videos are especially suited to supporting high school and University courses – please contact Andrew Maynard if you are interested with help  using the videos in the class.


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