Eberhart, Mark E.

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Eberhart, Mark E.


Education: University of Colorado, B.S., M.S.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1983.


Home—Golden, CO. Office—Department of Chemistry and Geochemistry, Colorado School of Mines, 1500 Illinois St., Golden, CO 80401. E-mail—[email protected].


Colorado School of Mines, Golden, associate professor of chemistry and geochemistry; has also worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Consultant, Nova, Public Broadcasting Service.


American Chemical Society Diplomacy Fellow, 2004-05.


Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Feeding the Fire: The Lost History and Uncertain Future of Mankind's Energy Addiction, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Mark E. Eberhart is the author of two works of popular science, both related to his fields of chemistry and geochemistry: Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart and Feeding the Fire: The Lost History and Uncertain Future of Mankind's Energy Addiction. Eberhart began his career in the sciences when he entered the University of Colorado at the age of sixteen, completing a bachelor of science degree with a dual major in chemistry and applied mathematics. He went on to finish a master of science degree in physical biochemistry. Later, he enrolled in the doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he pursued the study of material science and engineering. After receiving his degree, remarked a biographer on the Web site Coast to Coast AM, Eberhart became "one of a handful of scientist attempting to understand fracture at the quantum mechanical level," an expertise that made him uniquely qualified to write about the subject in Why Things Break.

Why Things Break is an examination of the problems of fracture that lie hidden from the everyday world. On a microscopic level, the way an object breaks depends on the ways that layers of atoms slide against one another. These layers can be changed by introducing impurities into the material from which the object is constructed. One example that Eberhart cites in the book is iron: adding carbon to iron produces steel, a much tougher metal. But adding sulfur to iron creates a metal with inherent weaknesses that may not be easily visible. Eberhart suggests that sulfur-based impurities in the Titanic's hull may have been responsible for the fact that the iceberg with which the liner collided ripped so easily through its protective plating. Stresses that might not trouble a machine without these impurities can result in catastrophic failure. Sulfur is not the only substance that weakens metal, though. "Hydrogen-powered cars are still in the future," explained a Publishers Weekly contributor, "because hydrogen embrittles most substances it comes into contact with." Eberhart "also shows a softer side of materials failure," Victoria M. Gilman reported in Chemical & Engineering News, "such as why Kevlar is great for making kayaks and why adding boron to glass revolutionized cookware." "Understanding why things break is crucial to modern life on every level, from personal safety to macroeconomics," according to Eberhart's home page. "Eberhart reveals that it is also an area of cutting-edge science."

In Feeding the Fire, Eberhart discusses "energy: what it is, how humans have used it in the past, and how we might use it more intelligently in the future," explained Anthony Doerr in the Boston Globe. "Eberhart," stated Carol Haggas in Booklist, "offers a concise yet thorough background of the scientific principles behind every form of energy." "Unlike other commentators on the energy crisis," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "he steps back to consider the basic science—all the way back to the laws of thermodynamics." "Eberhart argues in closing," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "that in order to counteract the baleful effects of our addiction to irreplaceable fossil fuels, we ‘must regain a sense of confidence in our abilities to imagine and direct the future.’"



Booklist, April 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of Feeding the Fire: The Lost History and Uncertain Future of Mankind's Energy Addiction, p. 8.

Boston Globe, July 15, 2007, Anthony Doerr, "On Science: Alarms, Ideas to Help Save a Damaged World," review of Feeding the Fire.

Chemical & Engineering News, March 1, 2004, Victoria M. Gilman, "The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture," p. 44.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2007, review of Feeding the Fire.

New Scientist, October 11, 2003, "School of Hard Knocks," p. 53.

Publishers Weekly, September 8, 2003, review of Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart, p. 69; March 26, 2007, review of Feeding the Fire, p. 77.

Wired, October, 2003, review of Why Things Break, p. 80.


Coast to Coast AM,http://www.coasttocoastam.com/ (January 16, 2008), biography of Mark E. Eberhart.

Colorado School of Mines Web site,http://www.mines.edu/ (January 16, 2008), profile of Mark E. Eberhart.

Mark E. Eberhart Home Page,http://www.meberhart.com (January 16, 2008).

National Academies Web site,http://www.nationalacademies.org/ (January 16, 2008), "Dr. Mark Eberhart, Colorado School of Mines."