WARRENDALE, PA, and NEW YORK, NY—As the Materials Research Society (MRS) celebrates its 40th anniversary, an article in the November issue of the prestigious MRS Bulletin, produced in partnership with Cambridge University Press, highlights some of the most groundbreaking developments in materials science and engineering—developments that would have been unthinkable just four decades ago—that are transforming our lives.
As part of the MRS 40th anniversary focus in the November MRS Bulletin, noted science writer Philip Ball has penned this article, with guidance from feature editor Gordon Pike and after interviewing a number of materials researchers, showcasing representative successes in 40 years of materials research. And, while it would be nearly impossible to distill materials developments over the past 4 decades into one article given the breadth of the field, Ball deftly focuses on six select major areas of materials science and engineering as representative examples of how materials research has had a fundamental positive impact on society and human lives: oxides in electronics, organic electronics, carbon nanostructures, multiscale materials modeling, materials in tissue engineering, and nuclear waste management.
Demonstrating the pivotal importance of information and communication technology across the scientific sector, huge strides have been made in electronic materials. Forty years ago, no one imagined using polymers and other organics in electronic applications, Ball reports—but today organics are offering some of the most exciting developments in the sector, from organic light-emitting devices that last for up to 100,000 hours to skullcaps with polymer sensors that detect concussive impacts to the head of an athlete.
Advances in computation have made it possible to model materials with greater detail and precision than ever before, Ball writes. The development of computer methods for modeling materials systems at the atomic scale as well as advances in hardware, for example, have now reached the level where some of these methods can handle millions of atoms in computations. Multiscale materials modeling should help to confer an element of predictability on what was previously a matter of discovery by trial and error. This is true, for example, in the area of metal alloy engineering, which has already so benefited from the insights offered by simulation that it is becoming possible to talk about "first principles metallurgy."
Another development, Ball says, that will probably have the most profound impact on our daily lives is biomaterials including the development of new fabrics for medicine and bioengineering. Tissue engineering—the growth of new living tissue, and the blending of the natural and synthetic—is perhaps the most remarkable example of the fusion of materials and biology.
The sixth topic highlighted—materials for nuclear waste management—is one of the few topics that has remained on the agenda of the Material Research Society's annual meetings for the past 40 years. The fact that the materials issues—not to mention the social and political issues—have still not been solved is an indication of the difficulty of the challenges faced, Ball writes.
"These topics were chosen not just because of their intrinsic importance and, on the whole, their novelty, but because of their potential social impact," writes Ball. "They all illustrate how the science is driven by societal demands and needs, and also how complex a matter it is to effect a transition from promising basic science to useful applications."
What emerges most strikingly from Ball's article is the degree to which these advances depend on dialogue between different research communities.
"Interdisciplinarity has always been a strength of materials science," he writes. "Which in this sense at least was thus a harbinger of things to come."
Ball's article—Four Decades of Materials Developments Transform Society—can be found in the November issue of MRS Bulletin. Each month, MRS Bulletin provides a comprehensive overview of a specific materials theme, along with industry and policy developments, and MRS and materials-community news and events. Written by leading experts, the overview articles are useful references for specialists, but are also presented at a level understandable to a broad scientific audience.
MRS Bulletin is free in both print and online formats for all current MRS members. Read the article in the November issue of MRS Bulletin here journals.cambridge.org/mrs40.
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About Cambridge University Press
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About the Materials Research Society
MRS is an organization of nearly 14,000 materials researchers from academia, industry and government worldwide, and a recognized leader in promoting the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research and technology to improve the quality of life. MRS members are students and professionals hailing from physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering—the full spectrum of materials research. Headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania (USA), MRS membership now spans over 80 countries, with 45 percent of members residing outside the United States.
MRS serves and engages members across generations to advance their careers and promote materials research and innovation. The Society produces high-quality meetings and publications, assuring that members of all career stages can present and publish their most important and timely work to an international and interdisciplinary audience. MRS continues to expand its professional development portfolio, as well as promote diversity and inclusion in the scientific workforce, with career services for researchers worldwide. The Society advocates for the importance of scientific research and innovation to policymakers and the community. And the MRS Awards program honors those whose work has already had a major impact in the field, as well as those whose work shows great promise for future leadership.
For more information about the Materials Research Society visit mrs.org
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