Materials research is central to solving some of the biggest challenges facing humanity today. Whether in the fields of energy, health care, information technology, or food and water production, we need materials to provide improved solutions to pressing concerns. As the preeminent professional society focused on materials research, MRS has a particular stewardship of this task, and a mission to ensure the vitality of the broad community of individuals and organizations that are concerned with materials research. This is well-reflected in the strategic objectives of the society, with our focus on active and effective dissemination, ensuring continued relevance of materials research through communication of societal benefits, and building a vibrant and diverse membership. As we approach our 50th year, we can rightly celebrate “The Rise of Interdisciplinarity” and multiple other successes enjoyed in the intervening years since 1973. The MRS meetings are unrivaled as the gatherings of choice for scientists seeking to disseminate their best materials research, and to engage meaningfully with the large international community of scientists that see the MRS as their intellectual home. Likewise, MRS publications are journals of record for materials scientists seeking to communicate their work in a timely fashion to the most relevant audiences.
As we look towards the coming years, while we can take stock of successes, we also recognize the challenges and headwinds that we face in its pursuit of our strategic objectives. Some are unique to MRS, while others are generic to large scientific societies, of which MRS is one. The landscape for large scientific meetings was already shifting rapidly before it was abruptly upended by the COVID crisis in 2020-2021. The implications of the pivot to remote meetings are multi-faceted and are not yet fully known. Sustaining the excellence of the society and its pursuit of its strategic objectives calls for agility and a willingness to innovate in response to this changing landscape. Within MRS, the question of “what constitutes materials research” is a critical one, but one that too often results in a narrowing, rather than a broadening, of the membership of the society. Increasing membership from industrial scientists and cultivating more interactions at the interface between industry and academia stand also as challenges for MRS in the coming years.
Along with challenges come opportunities, and MRS is well-positioned to capitalize on these, in furtherance of its mission. Pedagogy, for elementary school students and teachers to professional materials researchers, represents one such area where the society can amplify its impact in pursuit of its strategic objectives. Likewise, an embrace of more modern modes for dissemination of research, and discussion thereof, will help to position MRS as a leader not just in materials research, but in scientific publishing overall. Finally, societal awareness of the importance of materials in addressing societal needs is building towards a likely tipping point as we face down climate change, plastic pollution, and energy challenges. The Society must redouble its efforts to ensure that awareness of the important role of materials research in improving the human condition is translated into actionable plans that will set the stage for the years to come.
More important than any listing of ideas, challenges and opportunities for MRS however, are the issues of mechanisms and people – the “tools” with which we address whatever stands before us. The charge of the MRS Board is governance, and it functions therefore to steer the society towards its strategic objectives. As a Board member, while I may bring a particular interest in the aforementioned topics, viz. improving dissemination of research, meeting reform, and pedagogy, I believe the most important work of the Board is to provide and exercise mechanisms that facilitate organizational responsiveness, and to cultivate a deep pool of dedicated and passionate members. The membership after all is the wellspring from which solutions to future technological and organizational challenges will emerge, and it is through a vibrant, diverse and healthy membership that MRS maintains its extraordinary relevance in the current scientific landscape.
As a Board member, I bring a particular interest in (1) improving dissemination and discussion of materials research through innovative publishing; (2) cultivating MRS meetings to maintain vibrant membership and leadership in materials research; (3) materials pedagogy to further the MRS mission and build membership. I believe the most important work of the Board is to provide and exercise mechanisms that facilitate organizational responsiveness, and to cultivate a deep pool of dedicated and passionate members. My work on the Board will be in furtherance of those two objectives.