Q: I can't turn on the TV or shop for a stroller without hearing about titanium. When did it get so darn hot?
A: As the fourth most abundant metal in the earth's crust, titanium surely deserves the attention it is enjoying. The birth of titanium cool probably started in 1997, when architect Frank Gehry used it in abundance for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Until then, the metal had been largely under cover. During the cold war, it was used primarily to build aircraft. When this need abated, the titanium industry promoted its other uses. Up to four times as strong as steel and half the weight, titanium is ideal for tennis rackets and skis. More cost-efficient ways to cut the metal were developed after golfers clamored for titanium clubs in the mid-'90s, and now you can buy titanium binoculars, phones and strollers. The metal encases the new IBM ThinkPad X Series and the Macintosh PowerBook G4, which besides making both look sleek is thought to protect against data loss, since titanium is almost nonmagnetic. Alas, Gehry may have moved on. Asked to build a new branch of the Guggenheim, he warned museum-board members not to "fix" themselves on titanium.