Materials are probably more deep-seated in our culture than most of us realize. Transportation, housing, clothing, communication, recreation and food production-virtually every segment of our everyday lives is influenced to one degree or another materials. Historically, the development and advancement of societies have been intimately tied to the members’ ability to produce and manipulate materials to fill their needs. In fact, early civilizations have been designated by the level of their materials development.
In spite of the tremendous progress that has been made in the discipline of materials science within the past few years, there still remain technological challenges, including the development of even more sophisticated and specialized materials, as well as consideration of the environmental impact of materials production. Some comment is appropriate relative to these issues so as to round out this perspective.
The discipline of materials science involves investigating the relationships that exist between the structures and properties of materials. Why do we study materials? Many an applied scientist or engineer, whether mechanical, civil, chemical, or electrical, will at one time or another be exposed to a design problem involving materials. Examples might include a transmission gear, the superstructure for a building, an oil refinery component, or an integrated circuit chip.
On the other hand, materials scientists and engineers are specialists who are totally involved in the investigation and design materials. The more familiar a scientist is the various characteristics and structure-property relationships, as well as processing techniques of materials, the more proficient and confident he or she will be to make judicious materials choices based on these criteria.