Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why I Love Materials Science

A reader and friend commented to me yesterday that I seem very interested in materials sciences. He wanted to know why so I took advantage of the question for today's blog topic.

First, let me state that the value of a material is determined by its properties. These properties determine where it can best be used. For example, my last post I discussed graphene which has excellent mechanical, electrical, thermal and optical properties (to name a few). Considering all these properties, it stands to reason, graphene will be very useful for electronic devices and in many other applications that require strength and flexibility. Keep that in mind and we'll come back to that in a bit.

I am fascinated with materials sciences because each major epoch of human advance has revolved around innovation in materials.

When early humans first dug copper from the earth and smelted it into weapons, this changed history. The early barbaric tribesmen who knew the secret of copper could more easily defeat their stone wielding enemies. Stone weapons would chip and shatter against copper swords and armor.

When we first mixed copper with tin to create bronze, once again, the tides of history turned and a new Age was born. This is the period in history that gives us the rise of Ancient Greece and the scribblings of brilliant philosophers which still guide our thinking today. The brave Greek hoplite of legend relied on armor and weapons of bronze.

Then onto the Iron Age where we learned to harness natural forces and bend machines to augment the power of man. This is the epoch that is now ending, which we call the Industrial Revolution. It is the final phase of the Iron Age. This was the Age of industrialization when mechanized armies clashed in two mighty global wars for supremacy of ideology and control the resources and wealth of the Great European Plain -- all fueled by iron and petroleum.

It is advances in materials science that allowed the transistor to shrink ever and ever smaller until billions fit on a single computer chip. As we learn how to better control and manipulate the elements of nature, we unleash new potentials for humanity. We are now in the beginning stages of the Information Age -- the first Age of human history that was not based on the mastery of a single chemical element.

We now live in an era where new materials are being developed at an incredible rate. It stands to reason we are learning more and more how to manipulate and control the very elements of nature to create new exotic materials. With each new exotic material, new properties align or are improved which thereby determines the value of those materials. Ergo, new materials mean new opportunities.

And that's why I care about materials science.

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