Wafer-thin glass fibre composites can possess an almost transparent, esoteric fragility, yet you can mix this same material with stone dust to make a super-tough 'granite', or instantly bake a colourful enamel-like coating into it. And when a satin weave of carbon fibres can be seen through an acrylic or epoxy resin on the dashboard of a Ferrari, the link with a sexy black satin evening gown or evening suit seems far less remote. The association with the sophisticated, high-tech world of the aerospace industry and, more recently, top-level sport, further enhances the intangible attractiveness of 'carbon'. For this high-tech world, composite materials have been developed. Through the intelligent combination of light, colourful plastics with strong and stiff glass or carbon fibres, one obtains materials which are simultaneously light, strong and stiff. Finally, one very new development is the rediscovery of natural fibres as an outstanding reinforcement for synthetic materials.
Xtra Strong/Light - Composites, a book which is being published as part of the science communication project Composites-on-Tour-2, offers an accessible account of the properties and possibilities of composite materials. It also discusses the ways in which the Belgian designers Clem van Himbeeck and Weyers & Borms and the Israeli designer Ron Arad, who runs a design agency in London, use composite materials. These applications are both high-tech and strikingly artistic, and bear witness to intelligent and unconventional design visions.