grained simulations) and improved computer hardware and software.
Polymer characterization is a field that has profited greatly from advances in instrumentation and computation. Recent progress and opportunities are based on major improvements in traditional techniques and the introduction of new methods that are well adapted to the study of polymers. Examples include two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which has become a premier method for determining sequence distribution; several high-resolution microscopic techniques that are specifically suited to the study of dielectric surfaces and can be used without the requirement of high vacuum (e.g., near-field scanning optical microscopy); significantly improved scattering methods for solid-state, blend, and solution work, and advanced surface characterization techniques. Characterization methods are the basic tools that support the entirety of polymer science and engineering. No program can be at the forefront without broad-based access to and use of the most advanced methods.
Research is also needed to broaden the applications of polymeric materials. Materials with “tailored” properties based on blends, high-strength fibers, new matrices for composites, and improved stability of toughening additives are finding new uses as materials substitutes and in unique applications. This trend will accelerate as failure mechanisms become better understood. The areas for substitution of materials span automobiles, aircraft, boats, construction, machinery, and many other specialty items. While military applications are growing (e.g., body armor, uniforms, and aircraft), the field is ripe for rapid growth and penetration by polymeric materials.
Polymers are abundant in biological materials and are increasingly important in health, medicine, and biotechnology. Examples include implants, medical devices and diagnostics, controlled drug release, biological methods and mechanisms, and the techniques of biotechnology. This is an area of rapidly expanding understanding and application.
Even in electronics polymers are widely employed as dielectrics, resists, chip packaging, and electrophotographic media, and new applications of polymers are based on their electronic properties (e.g., synthetic metals, batteries, nonlinear optical materials, light-emitting diodes, displays, and holographic materials). All of these applications require research and development activity to ensure successful market performance.
Polymers may be employed in ways that are favorable from the standpoint of environmental acceptability. Polymers are generally environmentally benign, and research on recycling and disposal is progressing. Generally, polymers should be regarded as part of the environmental solution, not the problem. However, research on environmental aspects of polymers must be continued to ensure responsibility in materials choices. Environmental concerns are also of increasing importance to the Navy because of the need to comply with the MARPOL agreement, which restricts, and in some cases forbids, the earlier practice of disposal of refuse by dumping into the sea.