Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning through Making

Anna Ploszajski

Have you found solace in crafting during the lockdown? Perhaps you already know the therapeutic effects of creating something with your own hands. Our creations not only tell our stories, but the materials we use also have their own tales to share.

Handmade, a book researched and conceptualized before the pandemic, delves into the relationship between humans and materials. Each chapter focuses on a specific substance. The journey begins with glass, a subject familiar to author and materials scientist Anna Ploszajski. From there, Ploszajski explores plastic, steel, brass, and even unconventional materials like sugar and wool, all of which play a role in the world of handmade creations.

The purpose of this book is to shed light on the untold stories behind materials we often take for granted. Ploszajski skillfully explains the science behind selecting specific materials for certain purposes, while also delving into their social history. She actively seeks out modern-day craftspeople who work with each material, immersing herself in their world to provide an authentic and personal account of the skills and emotions involved in the crafting process. Additionally, Ploszajski shares her own stories, emphasizing the deep connections between people and the materials they work with.

The chapter on clay resonates strongly. Readers will discover the origins of bone china and why ceramics adorn the exterior of space shuttles. Ploszajski also recounts how her own pottery-making helped her cope with bullying in the lab. While the situation may not have been completely resolved, her journey towards closure serves as a poignant reminder of the persistence of bullying and harassment in the sciences. Hopefully, her story will inspire others to speak out and seek support.

Ploszajski’s writing is infused with passion and honesty. The scientific explanations are accessible to all readers, and the stories are captivating and thought-provoking. Handmade might introduce you to Anna Ploszajski for the first time, but it certainly won’t be the last encounter you have with her work.