Materials science is concerned with understanding how atomic and macrostructure influences the final material properties, and applies that knowledge to tune properties for desired applications.
Since the dawn of human civilization, we have been classifying history based on the predominant material in usage such as the Stone Age, Copper Age or the Iron Age.
Till the middle of the twentieth century, we used materials in a hit-or-miss serendipitous way. But starting from the development of Mendeleev’s periodic table, and through the birth of quantum physics, our approach completely changed. Now we had both the materials and the proper theories to explain and predict their properties. For the past fifty years or so, we built on and refined those theories to explain the properties of materials, and frankly we were pretty successful in this endeavor. But, armed with powerful computation capabilities we are now entering into a very different phase of materials research, as we apply these theories to create artificial materials.
We assess our needs and design materials from the ground up to perform to those needs.
The initial work revolves around active metal alloys whose properties are useful in the areas of
- Gamma ray techniques in medicine to re-program cells
- Space energy and new propulsion systems
- Perpetual energy production
The main thrusts of this approach are (https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-next-big-trends-in-materials-science):
1. Electronic Materials:
This research focuses on both extending the lifespan of silicon CMOS technologies, as well as supplanting them. This includes research in the sphere of dielectrics, where many of the lab technologies are currently entering the marketplace as we speak, to exploring novel device architectures. Along with that there has been a lot of thrust on silicon replacement materials, with graphene being a prime focus.
Additionally, people have been trying to move away from traditional electronics itself, and have been experimenting with photonic circuits, and spintronics for quantum computing. In terms of timelines, graphene may witness commercial acceptance within this decade, while quantum computers are still a decade or two away.
2. Energy Materials:
This is an extraordinarily fertile area of research. With a seven billion and growing population, development has only increased the global energy demand. With the threat of catastrophic climate change looming on us, this is where we are actually running against the clock to come up with better batteries, better energy storage, and more efficient ways to store and harness energy.
3. Structural Materials:
Engines are more efficient when they run at higher pressures and temperatures. Better thermal properties of building materials significantly drive down HVAC costs. Our transportation solutions have to be safer (read stronger) and more efficient (read lighter). Structural materials research aims to solve these problems, often trying to tie in these disparate market demands. Thus we have moved away from steel to aluminum to even carbon fiber, and yet more stuff may be on the horizon.
Organ shortage is a persistent problem, as is the low availability of blood. Synthetic tissue engineering comes here to the rescue. Biomaterials research makes immediate impacts like artificial hearts or artificial kidneys to futuristic applications which perform the role of organ replacement through more powerful implants.
5. Emergent Phenomena:
This is another exciting avenue. Till now, we have been analyzing structure property relationships through crystal symmetry. What if we could create superlattice structures with symmetries never observed in nature? Would we generate new, unheard of properties? The short answer is yes, and here comes metamaterials. This is a technology that is at least two decades away from adoption, but promises to completely revolutionize humanity’s relationship with materials.