A Little Less Sticky Than Before…..


If it feels like an age since I last updated you all on my book-progress, that’s partly because 2020 has been the longest year ever, and partly because it actually has been an age since I talked about STICKY on here. 11 months, in fact, on this post. It’s time that I rectified that.

The truth is…. it’s going well! I might go into more detail on why / how that’s the case in my traditional end-of-year post, but the main thing is that, since mid-September, I have taken a break from “real life” (i.e. I’m not doing any paid work until the first draft is submitted). This was a pretty scary decision, and not one that I made – or could make – alone, given the financial implications of it. All I will say on that is that I am extremely lucky to be married to a man who despite dealing with my writing-related meltdowns on a daily basis, still believes in me and in this project. I’d have given up on this two years ago if it wasn’t for him. Anyway, having the space to focus on the book full-time has supercharged my progress. At the time of clicking ‘publish’ on this post, I have ONE more chapter to research and write, plus what I expect will be a fairly lengthy introduction. So there’s still work to be done, but this situation was, honestly, unimaginable in July. I am happy. I’m also exhausted, and intend to sleep for a week once the first draft has made its way to Bloomsbury.

And on that – a bit of info on the timeline. I submit the first draft at the end of February. Publisher Jim and editor Angelique will put it through an initial edit, then send it back to me for a redraft (for SATC, this process involved ripping apart almost every chapter, which was weirdly therapeutic). Any illustrations will be prepped at this stage too, and the book cover will be designed. Draft #2 goes to a copy-editor, and we then work together to produce Draft #3, which should hopefully be just a tidied-up version of #2. The proto-book with all its refs and illustrations then gets type-set and the index is produced. I review that version one last time, and then we’re done. It’s not a speedy process, which is why, despite me chasing a February 2021 deadline, STICKY won’t appear in shops until November 2021 (pre-orders will be available too – I’ll keep you updated). I honestly cannot WAIT for that day 🙂 As with Science and the City, STICKY will be published in Europe / UK first, with US / Rest of World to follow within a few months. Hardback and e-book are usually the first versions, with paperback coming later. I won’t know until then if any ‘foreign language’ editions will be produced. And I’m afraid there are no plans for an audiobook.

Right, so what’s in it? Well, as I’ve said previously, STICKY is a book about surfaces, and the implications of the what happens on and between them. It’s a book full of surprises, with topics you may never have thought about or heard of, but which I hope you’ll become fascinated with 🙂 I firmly believe that it has something for everyone, but you’ll have to be the judges of that! It’s much more of a deep-dive book than SATC was – still very much written for non-experts, but I’m trusting that my readers have grown alongside me. And don’t worry, I’m still very much your friendly science guide through it all. I’m also thrilled by how many fantastic researchers I’ve managed to pack into its pages – that was a big goal for me with this book.

To finish, I thought I’d give you a quick glance at each chapter – but I don’t want to give too much away. I’m still playing with the final chapter headings (which are all song titles), but most of these are set.

STICKY: The Secret Science of Surfaces

0. Introduction
An introduction to what’s in the book, and what’s not 🙂 A glance ahead at some of the topics, plus probably a bit of self-indulgent reflection on all things sticky.

1. Stuck in the Middle
Topics covered: Paints and adhesives throughout history and the mechanics of how some famous products stick. This chapter includes self-cleaning and non-stick surfaces too, both natural and artificial.
People featured in this chapter: A senior knowledge holder of the Gija people in Western Australia, a materials conservationist, an adhesives chemist, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and a mechanical engineer.

2. The Climb
Topics: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how geckos scale walls, including a lot of failed experiments that aimed to understand these awesome lizards. Plus, come face-to-face with technologies that have been inspired by them.
People: Two biology professors, a mechanical engineering professor, and a roboticist who’s carried out experiments on NASA’s ‘vomit comet’.

3. Nightswimming
Topics: Hydrodynamics – the physics of moving through water, and our evolving ability to measure the processes involved. Swimsuit-science-debunking, sharks, and boats that don’t touch the water
People: The designer of a record-breaking suit, two shark scientists, a Danish physicist, and a member of Emirates Team NZ.

4. Go With the Flow
Topics: Aerodynamics – the physics of flight – from the slower speeds of ball sports, to sound-barrier-smashing aircraft
People: a real-life test pilot and two aerospace engineers.

5. Don’t Stop Me Now
Topics: Come with me on a visit to an F1 team factory, and learn about how race cars push tyres and brakes to their limits
People: an F1 Head of Vehicle Science, a former trackside tyre engineer, and a lubrication researcher.

6. Shake, Rattle and Roll
Topics: A primer on earthquakes, in all their destructive, unpredictable glory. The role of friction in geological processes and a look into some recent quakes here in Aotearoa New Zealand. A visit to a very cool research facility.
People: a superstar line-up of the some of the world’s best earthquake geologists.

7. Ice, Ice, Baby
Topics: This chapter unpicks the science of the Winter Olympics, and answers some seemingly basic questions (spoiler: ice is more complicated than you could possibly imagine). Lots of controversy at the highest levels of a Scottish sport, and the freezing temperatures that aircraft must withstand.
People: a physicist, a glaciologist, a mechanical engineer, and two feuding research groups – one in Sweden, the other in Canada.

8. Feelin’ Groovy
Topics: My take on the human sense of touch, focused on what happens when our hands meet various surfaces. We’ll talk about fingerprinting, our skin’s touch receptors and the frictional forces that helps us grip. We’ll also meet some very cool tactile technologies.
People: fingerprint officers, a biotribologist, a computer scientist, and a visually-impaired researcher who is changing the world of braille.

9. Closer Than Close
Topics: What is contact, really? Where does friction come from, and what happens to it at the nanoscale? Will we ever be able to defeat (or at least, defy) it? Despite decades of research, most of these questions have yet to be answered, so expect a chapter full of mysteries.
People: TBC – you’ll have to buy the book to find out!