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Advancing Materials Research
invisible in the final systems. Overall, chemistry is perceived as playing a supporting role in materials science, and a relatively unexciting one at that.
This situation will change. Materials science is facing problems for which existing systems do not offer satisfactory solutions. The great strength of materials science has rested in its ability to process, combine, and fabricate final systems from existing materials (e.g., metals, polymers, ceramics). The potential for major innovation through improved processing of existing materials is not decreasing, but many important problems cannot be solved simply by processing. The strength of chemistry is its ability to design, synthesize, and produce new materials. The current requirement in materials science for new classes of materials capable of meeting high-performance specifications has stimulated great interest in chemistry. Both the intellectual and practical commercial aspects of materials design and production are becoming major foci of research and development in chemistry.4
This chapter outlines representative recent contributions of chemistry to materials science, suggests areas of materials science to which chemical research might directly contribute in the immediate future, and speculates about the long-range impact of chemical research in producing new types of materials systems and new concepts for materials science. It is not a comprehensive survey of the relations between chemistry and materials science. Rather, it offers informed opinions concerning areas in which new chemistry might lead to new materials and ultimately to new, technologically significant materials systems.
THE CURRENT ROLE OF CHEMISTRY IN MATERIALS SCIENCE
The production of a final assembled object can be broken down into three major processes (Figure 1). The components of the system—polymers, metals, ceramics, and functional agents—are prepared or synthesized from raw materials. These components are then processed into materials having desired properties and shapes, and, finally, are assembled into the final product. Chemistry contributes to all these stages but plays its largest role in the first—the synthesis of individual components. The importance of the adhesives, protective coatings, lubricants, and other products used in later stages of the process is often overlooked. One major change expected in the future is the more active involvement of chemistry in the later stages of the transformation from raw materials to final product.
Ceramics processing is an example of a field of opportunity for chemists. In ceramics processing, a ceramic powder is typically suspended in an aqueous or nonaqueous medium with the help of wetting agents and dispersants. A polymeric binder is added to convert the dispersion to a thick paste. Once the “green” ceramic paste has been cast or molded, the polymeric binder is extracted or pyrolyzed to leave a hard, brittle ceramic residue in the final