Ball, Philip 1962–

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Ball, Philip 1962–

(Philip Charles Ball)

PERSONAL: Born October 30, 1962, in Newport, England; son of David and Jennifer (Porter) Ball. Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1983; University of Bristol, Ph.D., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: Music and theater performance, travel.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Peter Robinson, Curtis Brown, Haymarket House, 28-29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SP, England.

CAREER: Nature, London, England, editor, 1988–2000; freelance writer, 2000–.

AWARDS, HONORS: Award for books on chemistry, American Association of Publishers 1994, for Designing the Molecular World: Chemistry at the Frontier; Sally Hacker Prize, Society for the History of Technology, 2003, for Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color; Aventis Foundation Prize for best general science book, 2004, for Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another.


Designing the Molecular World: Chemistry at the Frontier, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.

Made to Measure: New Materials for the Twenty-first Century, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.

The Self-made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

H2O: A Biography of Water, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1999, published as Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.

Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.

The Ingredients: A Guided Tour of the Elements, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Molecules: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to professional journals.

SIDELIGHTS: In his first book, Designing the Molecular World: Chemistry at the Frontier, Philip Ball defines the contributions and potential of chemistry, covering such topics as fullerenes, chemical reactions, quasi-periodic solids, living organisms, fractals, chaos theory, and the chemistry of earth's atmosphere. "Ball … showcases the excitement of contemporary chemistry by departing from the standard subdivisions of the science," wrote Jan Williams in a Library Journal appraisal of Designing the Molecular World. Ball emphasizes the importance of input from other disciplines, including electronics, biology, and climatology, covers the achievements of chemists over the last two decades, and reveals the actions, properties, research, impacts, and consequences of the chemistry process within various subject areas.

Nature reviewer Peter Atkins noted the importance of chemists, their understanding and generation of matter, and the foundations they provide for the advancement of both medicine and technology. Atkins felt that Ball "illustrates these truths … at a level that anyone who has a willingness to follow will find accessible. He avoids the temptation of bogging down the exposition in the past and aims directly for the modern … the text moves at a brisk journalist's pace, with a journalist's eye for the important, the eye-catching, and the interesting, but the pace does not compromise the science, and the whole book is pervaded by a sense of authority and comprehension." Times Literary Supplement reviewer John Postgate called Designing the Molecular World "a tour de force of popular science writing: nothing less than a survey, in considerable depth, of the frontiers of modern chemistry."

Made to Measure: New Materials for the Twenty-first Century was called a "far-reaching work" by contributor Robert C. Ballou in the Library Journal. "There are lots of good photographs and schematics for aiding the sometimes dizzying exposition," added the reviewer. Subjects include nanotechnology, photonics—which Ball feels will one day replace electronics—and "smart" materials, which he projects will displace many machines. He discusses materials scientists have created, or are planning to create, that will advance technology and have unforeseen consequences. Eliot A. Cohen noted in Foreign Affairs that the replacement of oil as a fuel or lubricant could be one example. Dubbing Made to Measure "not written for the technically faint of heart," Cohen called it "a dense but accessible introduction" to the subject matter. Ball describes the role of material scientists in developing artificial body parts and future advances in medicine, including combining molecular biology and materials science in growing new organs and the use of silicon chips in controlling malfunctioning brains. He writes that the development of new materials, including solar cells, will help in decreasing pollution.

New Scientist reviewer Colin Humphreys called Made to Measure "outstanding…. Materials science, like biotechnology, is now entering a golden age. Advances in our understanding of the physics and chemistry of materials have made it possible to start with a need, then develop a new material to meet it. Sometimes this is constructed atom by atom. Similarly, genetic engineers seek to create new genes, piecing together tiny fragments of DNA based on an understanding of the genetic code. Because we increasingly have the ability to tailor-make genes and new materials for specific applications, the twenty-first century will be a time of enormous creativity and progress in both fields."

In The Self-made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, Ball challenges the presumptions that complex patterns are guided by intelligence or, in nature, are simply the result of random mutation and natural selection. The book includes more than 400 photographs and line drawings. "Ball's range is quite impressive," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor. In his thesis, Ball discusses how nature-derived patterns such as the spots of leopards, stripes of zebras, and honeycombs of bees are self-organized and how some patterns are universal. He demonstrates how nature's patterns evolve from simple physical laws and links the fields of chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics, and physics in his explanations. The Self-made Tapestry "does a remarkable job of presenting the hows and whys," suggested Wade Lee in his review for the Library Journal.



Booklist, June 1, 1994, p. 1744.

Chemical and Engineering News, May 19, 1997, p. 49.

Choice, January, 1995, p. 816.

Foreign Affairs, May, 1998, Eliot A. Cohen, review of Made to Measure: New Materials for the Twenty-first Century, p. 136.

Library Journal, May 15, 1994, Jan Williams, review of Designing the Molecular World: Chemistry at the Frontier, p. 94; November 15, 1997, Robert C. Ballou, review of Made to Measure, p. 73; October 1, 1998, Wade Lee, review of The Self-made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, pp. 127-128.

Nature, July 14, 1994, Peter Atkins, review of Designing the Molecular World, pp. 109-110; January 2, 1997, p. 36; October 28, 1999.

New Scientist, October 22, 1994, p. 45; March 21, 1998, Colin Humphreys, review of Made to Measure.

Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1998, review of The Self-made Tapestry, p. 63.

Times Literary Supplement, John Postgate, review of Designing the Molecular World, March 17, 1995, p. 10.