Skip to main content
Zoe Laughlin pours liquid nitrogen the Secret Story of Stuff BBC

The Secret Story of Stuff

Materials of the Modern Age

About the programme

Welcome to the magical world of materials, where designer, materials engineer and enthusiast Zoe Laughlin explores the stuff that shapes the world around us.

Everything, from the cars we drive to the clothes we wear is manufactured from something. From her workshop at the Institute of Making, Zoe travels the country to discover the alchemy behind the latest developments in the science of those materials.

Everlasting dental crowns are being 3D printed in Loughborough. In Chester, vets are repairing broken bones with porous metals. New textiles with thread 8 times stronger than cotton is the latest revolution in fashion and in London, fungus is being used to make a self extinguishing insulation that could revolutionise the construction industry.

Bringing these wondrous material innovations back to her workshop Zoe puts them through their paces and in the process reveals why now is the most exciting time to be exploring this Stuff.

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

Zoe Laughlin in the Secret Story of Stuff

Copyright: 7wonder

Meet the OU expert...

Dr Alexander Forsey - Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of STEM
Dr Alexander ForseyLecturer in Mechanical Engineering - Faculty of STEMVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Alexander Forsey - Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of STEM
Dr Alexander ForseyLecturer in Mechanical Engineering - Faculty of STEM

My research is about how metals deform and behave. I use many material characterisation techniques, but my speciality is to do this by using an image processing technique called digital image correlation (DIC), which allows the deformation of materials to be measured by taking images during the deformation process. My current focus has been on the high-temperature behaviour of welds in steels for nuclear pressure vessels, metal additive layer manufacturing, and phase transformation in stainless steel. However, I have worked on most structural metals throughout my career, but also further afield materials including carbon fibre laminates, nuclear graphite, concrete, glass-reinforced aluminium (GLARE) and foam rubber. I authored on part 1 of T194 Engineering: Mathematics, Modelling and Applications,  which is a maths course for engineers and also dynamics on T272 Core Engineering B and thermodynamics on T229 Heat and Flow. 

More secrets revealed...

The Secrets of Your Food

The Secrets of Your Food' is the delicious science story of the food on your plate.

Read Article
George McGavin and Zoe Laughlin in The Secret Science of Sewage

Secret Science of Sewage

Explore the valuable resources in sewage through world-leading science.

Read Article
A V&A curator working on a kimono

Secrets of the Museum

A unique arts series venturing behind the scenes at the world-famous museum of art, design and performance, the V&A.

Read Article
Chris and Xand van Tullekan

The Human Body: Secrets of Your Life Revealed

Discover the amazing journey we all make from the most helpless to the most sophisticated organism on earth.

Read Article
jamie barlett presenter of secrets of silicon valley - BBC and OU

Secrets of Silicon Valley

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley's glittering promise to build a better world.

Read Article

Explore the OU

A cropped photo of students with documents scattered in front of them.

Open University courses

An image of the OU poster for 'A Perfect Planet'

Order a free OU Poster

A young woman on a computer in a cafe

OU subjects A-Z

A photograph taken in a cafe. A mug is in focus in the foreground, and a man using a laptop is out of focus in the background.

The latest OU news

A photo of a person using a laptop and notebook, and a small dog resting its head on the user's arm

About distance learning

A top-down picture of a man using a laptop at a desk

Free courses

A photo of a man wearing a red hoodie and headphones walking away from the camera, on a busy path by a road

Hear from students

About our BBC partnership

For over 50 years The Open University and the BBC have worked together; co-producing hundreds of hours of programming and bringing learning to life for millions. Find out more about our unique partnership.

OU website