. "4. Research Opportunities and the Elements of Materials Science and Engineering." Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990s: Maintaining Competitiveness in the Age of Materials. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1989.
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Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990s: Maintaining Competitiveness in the Age of Materials
the primary motivation. In physics and chemistry, the value of seeking knowledge for its own sake tends to be taken for granted. In the field of materials science and engineering, the role of fundamental science is just as essential and forms the basis for many of the great developments that have already changed our society and will continue to transform it.
For example, quantum mechanics is the basis of our understanding of solids. The use of quantum mechanical principles in building transistors or future quantum-well devices is a case in point. Without the framework provided by this fundamental knowledge, the power of materials science and engineering, which led to the integrated circuit, would never have revolutionized information technology. The importance of quantum mechanics appeared again in the invention of the first and of all subsequent lasers. It is now playing a central role in the development of high-Tc superconductors. The discovery of high-speed superconducting Josephson junctions was not motivated by applications. But their development into a high-speed switch (to which materials science and engineering made a contribution) was so motivated. The new high-temperature superconductors were not discovered during a search for applications. But their development as useful materials will require scientific research directed toward applications.
The point is that fundamental scientific advances are essential components of materials science and engineering, even though the motivation for them may, at the outset, have no obvious connection with applications. Once a major scientific breakthrough occurs, the full power of materials science and engineering is needed to make something useful of it.
The methodology for developing materials for applications, which provides an underlying coherence to this diverse field, is the framework for this chapter’s examination of research opportunities in materials science and engineering. Assessing research opportunities in terms of the four basic elements of the field (see Figure 1.10) allows study of their relative significance regardless of materials class, functional applications, or position in the spectrum from basic research to engineering. It also provides another perspective from which to discern and monitor broad trends in materials science and engineering. In this chapter, emphasis is given to synthesis and processing as the element of the field that especially requires the concentrated efforts of U.S. researchers.
In the past, many viewed materials science and engineering as focusing primarily on structure-property-performance relationships in materials. This view of the field has had its counterpart in the activities viewed as important by materials scientists and engineers. Materials scientists and engineers have studied the structure and composition of materials on scales ranging from the electronic and atomic through the microscopic to the macroscopic. They have measured materials properties of all kinds, such as mechanical strength, optical reflectivity, and electrical conductivity. They have predicted and