tions contribute to decisions made in the field, even though they remain perceptions. The overall picture conveyed by Table 7.1 is that of an aging nation that has yet to develop the strategies, structures, or mechanisms to defend its decaying leadership in the world of materials. The “Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations” chapter suggests ways in which materials science and engineering can be strengthened and applied to areas of national importance.
For the past 40 years, the United States has been the world industrial leader because of its dominant position in science and technology. During the past decade this position has been deteriorating rapidly as Western Europe and Japan have assumed an aggressive role in technology development, both for domestic and for export markets. In many areas, including materials, these nations now are fully competitive, and in some cases, they have surpassed the United States. Their reemergence in materials science and engineering benefits the field as a whole, but the United States can and must regain its competitive edge. Without it, an essential factor in maintaining U.S. economic well-being will be lost. Foremost among the observations discussed in this study is the strong commitment to industrial growth by all major competitor nations, stimulated by coordinated R&D in which materials science and engineering is a featured element. Indeed, of all the industrial areas in which growth is anticipated for the next decade, materials science and engineering ranks in importance with biotechnology and computer and information technology as the areas targeted for development by all nations sampled.
As demonstrated by the industry surveys discussed in Chapter 2, materials science and engineering is seen as critical to a wide range of technologies and industries. It is an enabling technology that permits or leads to advances in areas as diverse as aerospace, computers, communications, and automobile technology. In all these vital areas there is growing competition, and our major trading partners are catching up to or exceeding U.S. capabilities in the production of many materials and materials systems, that is, in the development of manufacturing technology. The principal driving forces in these competitive markets are specific industrial businesses rather than governments, but in general, coordinated government-sponsored R&D efforts can have a significant impact on industrial capabilities to compete. Notable examples in the history of U.S. development illustrate this impact; federal funding focused on aerospace-related R&D sponsored by the DOD and NASA and carried out in universities, government laboratories, and industry has been highly influential in the development of U.S. eminence in commercial aircraft manufacturing. Leadership in science does not guarantee leadership