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Polymer Science and Engineering: The Shifting Research Frontiers
depends in part on how they are disposed of at the end of their useful life. Clearly, no single pathway of disposal is optimal for all materials, and researchers are looking at several alternatives: direct recycling, degradation, and incineration with heat recovery as opposed to landfill disposal. Efforts also are being made to minimize waste by-products during manufacture and to extend the useful life of materials by improving their properties. Emissions reduction has become a major goal of virtually all polymer-producing enterprises. Opportunities exist for polymer scientists and engineers to contribute to the development of more environmentally benign products and processes. However, understanding and dealing effectively with the difficult issues concerning environmental impact will require an integrated approach drawing on the strengths of polymer science and engineering, economics, and policy analysis.
Recommendation 4: The committee recommends that an independent committee at the national level be appointed to accomplish the following:
Analysis of the environmental issues posed by materials, including polymers; and
Scientific, engineering, and economic analyses of polymeric materials production, processing, use, recycling, and end-use disposal as a guide to environmental policymaking.
Encouragement of Active Collaboration Across Subfields of Materials Science and Engineering
Findings and Conclusions: Interdisciplinary polymer science and engineering research in nontraditional areas and with nontraditional partners will have maximum impact on developments in science and technology and their contribution to ensuring U.S. economic strength and international competitiveness. Yet the fields concerned with broad classes of materials, such as metals, ceramics, electronic materials, biological materials, and polymers, continue to be quite separate in terms of professional societies, academic disciplines, publication media, and industrial organizations. Moreover, the differing technical languages and cultures of the subfields have complicated efforts to establish interactions and collaborations. Even within the polymer area, which is characterized by breadth and diversity, communication can be limited by the insularity of the subfields.
Currently, fragmentation is particularly evident at the interfaces between polymer science and other technical areas. Closer ties between the polymer research community and, for example, groups studying medical and biological materials or those focusing on structural composites and electronic and optical materials could provide important synergies. To achieve progress, bridges must be built to link diverse disciplines and fields. All materials fields would benefit from closer relationships and better communication.