Material Science: Backbone of Modern Technology

There is a lot of science to be discovered when working with materials.

The interdisciplinary field of material science also commonly termed material science and engineering is the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids. The intellectual origins of material science stem from the enlightenment when researchers began to use analytical thinking from chemistry, physics and engineering to understand ancient phenomenological observations in metallurgy and mineralogy. Material science still incorporates elements of physics, chemistry and engineering. As such the field was long considered by academic institutions as a sub-field of these related fields. Beginning in the 1940s, material science began to be more widely recognized as a specific and distinct field of science and engineering and major technical universities around the World created dedicated school of the study within either the science or engineering schools, hence naming.

Material science is a syncretic discipline hybridizing metallurgy, ceramic, solid state physics and chemistry. It is the first example of a new academic discipline emerging by fusion rather than fission. Many of the most pressing scientific problems that we currently face are due to the limit of the material that are available and how they are used. Thus, breakthrough in material science are likely to affect the future of technology significantly. Material scientist emphasize understanding ,how the history of a material ( in processing) influence its structure and thus the material properties and performance .The understanding of processing, structure properties relationship is called the material paradigm. This paradigm is used to advance understanding in a variety of research areas, including nanotechnology, biomaterial and metallurgy. Material science is also an important part of forensic engineering and failure analysis, investigating material, products, structure or components which fail or do not function as indicated, causing personal injury or damage to property. Such investigations are key to understanding for example, the cause of various aviation accidents and incident.

The material of choice of a given era is often a defined point. Phrases such as Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Steel age are historic, if arbitrary examples originally deriving from the manufacture of ceramic and its putative derivative metallurgy. Material science is one of the oldest forms of engineering and applied science. Modern material science evolved directly from metallurgy, which itself evolved from mining and (likely) ceramics and earlier from the use of fire. A major breakthrough in the understanding of materials occurred in the late 19th century when the American Scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs demonstrated that the thermodynamic properties related to atomic structure in various phases are related to the physical properties of a material. Important elements of modern materials science are a product of the space race: the understanding and engineering of the metallic alloys and silica and carbon materials used in building space vehicles, enabling the exploration of space material science has driven and been driven by the development of revolutionary technologies such as rubber, plastics, semiconductor and biomaterials. Before 1960s (and in some cases decades after) may eventual material science departments were metallurgy or ceramic engineering departments, reflecting the 19th and early 20th century emphasis on metal and ceramic. The growth of material science in the United States was catalyzed part by the Advance Research Project Agency ,which funded a series of university, hosted laboratories in the early 1960s to expand the National program of basic research  and training in the material science. The field has since broadened to include every class of materials including ceramic, polymers, semiconductors magnetic materials, bimetals and nanomaterials, generally classified in three distinct groups: ceramic, metals and polymers. The prominent change in material science during the recent decades is active cause of computer simulations to find new materials, products properties and understand phenomena.

A material is defined as a substance (most often a solid but other condensed phases can be included) that is intended to be used for certain applications. There are myriad of materials around us, they can be found in anything from building to spacecraft. Materials can generally be further divided into two i.e. crystalline & amorphous (non-crystalline).The traditional examples of materials are metals, semiconductor, ceramics and polymers. New and advanced materials that are being developed include, nanomaterials, biomaterials and energy materials to name a few. The basis of material science involves studying the structure of materials and relating them to their properties. Once a material scientist knows about this structure-property correlation, they can then go to study the relative performance of a material in a given application. The major determinants of the structure of a material and thus of its properties are its constituent chemical elements and the way in which it has been processed into its final form. These characteristic taken together and the related through the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics, govern the microstructure of a material and thus its application.

Apart from the known age old materials which are of great importance in many ways, the study or research works on material science could find out new interesting and very useful materials. Some of them worth mentioned are nanomaterials, Biomaterials, Electronic, optical and magnetic materials like graphene. Nanomaterials describe in principle, the materials of which a single unit sized (in at least one dimension) between 1 and 1000 nanometers (10-9 m) but is usually 1 to 100 nm. Nanomaterial research takes a material science based approach to nanotechnology. Materials with structure at the nanoscale often have unique optical, electronic or mechanical properties. The field of nanomaterials is loosely organized, like the traditional field of chemistry into organic (Carbon-based) nanomaterials such as fullerenes and inorganic nanomaterials based on other elements such as silicon.

Common examples of nanomaterials are fullerene, carbon nanotubes, nanocrystal etc. On the other hand a newly developed material is Biomaterials. A biomaterial is any matter, surface or construct that interacts with biological system. The study of biomaterials is called Bio-material science. Biomaterials can be derived either from nature or synthesized in a laboratory using a variety of chemical approach using metallic components, polymers, bio ceramics or composite materials. They are often used and /or adapted for a medical application and thus comprise whole or part of a living structure or biomedical device which performed, augments or replaces a natural function. Such functions may be benign, like being used for a heart valve or may be bioactive with a more interactive functionality such as Hydroxyapatite coated hip implants. Biomaterials are also used every day in dental applications, surgery and drug delivery.

A biomaterial may also be an autograft, allograft or xenograft used as an organ transplant. Semiconductors, metals and ceramics are used today to form highly complex system such as Integrated Circuits (ICs), optoelectronic device and magnetic as well as optical mass storage media. These materials form the basis of our modern computing world and hence research into these materials is of vital importance. Semiconductors are traditional example of these types of materials. They are materials that have properties that are intermediate between conductors and insulators. Their electrical conductivities are very sensitive to impurity concentration and this allows for the use of doping to achieve desirable electronic properties. Hence semiconductors form the basis of the traditional computer. This field also include a new areas of research such as superconducting materials, spintronic, metamaterials etc. The study of these materials involve knowledge of material science and solid state physics or condensed matter physics.

The field of material science and engineering is important both from a scientific perspective as well as from engineering one. When discovering new materials, one encounters new phenomena that may not have been observed before. Hence, there is a lot of science to be discovered when working with materials. Material science also provides a test for theories in condensed matter physics. Materials are of the utmost importance for engineers as the usage of the appropriate materials is crucial when designing systems. As a result, material science is an increasingly important part of an engineer’s education.

(The views expressed are personal | Writer can be reached at: sjugeshwor7@gmail.com)

First Published:Oct. 12, 2020, 7:25 a.m.

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