There is no correlation between large block grants and degree of interdisciplinary interaction.
Excellence was achieved at many of the block-funded centers in the very same areas, while other important areas were neglected. For example, all the major polymer-research centers came into existence outside the block-funded schools.
On the question of what has been achieved by block funding which could not have been achieved otherwise, one of the most significant management developments has been the parallel emergence of strong university groups without the benefit of block funding; that is, the entree of block funding stimulated equivalent efforts without block funding. Case studies of such experiences might tell even more about the requirements for effective interdisciplinary work on campus.
During the 1960’s there was a rapid coalescence of the materials field, so that what were separate degree programs in metallurgy, ceramics, and, to a lesser extent, polymer science, were being brought together both by the logic of a common science of materials and by administrative fiat. Yet, while there has been a great deal of discussion about the development of “materials science” degrees, the changes have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. A total of only ten departments call themselves “materials science and/or engineering” without a qualifier. This includes no more than 4 or 5 entirely new Ph.D. degree programs in what may be called materials science, and only one or two of those have produced any appreciable numbers of Ph.D.’s. Many of the major metallurgy departments have introduced solid-state subject matter and have adopted the title (substituting or adding) “materials science.” However, rarely does the degree program provide much exposure to ceramics or polymers, or new conceptual frameworks, or applied courses dealing with several classes of materials. This appears to be due, at least in some measure, to the fact that the educational programs themselves have not been supported by federal funding but simply reflect the existing departmental structures or new research emphases. Private institutions have not fared significantly better than their public counterparts in this respect.
There is still some question as to whether or not a new academic discipline of materials science or of materials engineering will emerge. An unresolved issue on this point is the extent to which polymer science can be integrated into the rest of materials science. There is as yet no example of a well-known polymer-oriented Ph.D. curriculum sharing a basic core with other materials science students. Either such a new materials discipline with metallurgy, ceramics, and polymer science becoming branches or subfields within it (more or less like chemistry and its division into physical, inorganic, organic, etc.) will develop, or increasingly what may appear is a group of materials sciences affiliated loosely with each other. Indeed, the solution presently adopted by some of the largest departments points in the latter direction. These departments may offer three or four options in ceramics, metals, polymers, and a more basic undifferentiated materials science, which is an arrangement that allows a degree of specialization but simultaneously provides a common foundation. At present, there are real difficulties in achieving genuine intellectual innovation on curricular