While I was in Dresden, in Germany, I read a leaflet given out by the Dresden tourist office. Most of it was understandably focused towards the main tourist sites of Dresden, but they included a nice little bit describing Dresden industry. The area is of course famous for its porcelain (the first produced in Europe – and they had to out themselves how to make it because the Chinese weren’t telling them the secret), but that, according to the leaflet, is just one of the technological achievements of the region. Others, in no particular order, include the SLR camera, the bra, the coffee filter, and the toothpaste tube.
The toothpaste tube? It never occured to me that someone actually invented it. But, when you think about it, it can’t have been easy finding a material that would do the job. For a start, whatever you make it out of needs to be impermeable – in other words the toothpaste doesn’t leak through it. It needs also to be flexible, but still strong enough to maintain its impermeability when it is squished up to get that last squeeze of paste out of it. Plus, of course, non-toxic, and no more expensive to make than its contents. You can probably think of many more.
Materials science is the area of science that looks at these kinds of problems. What is the best material for such and such? whether it be aircraft wings, or stovetops or road surfaces – all have their requirements.
Dresden obviously got it right with porcelain, and toothpaste tubes, though I would have been more impressed if the toothpaste within the tube that I bought there last week had tasted slightly better than utterly foul.