Materials Research Activities

History of materials research: enabling techniques

Enabling techniques

  • theory
  • experiment
  • computer technologies (data analysis, automation, simulation)

We have developed the above list in consultation with Gordon Pike, Sandia Labs and former MRS President, Prof. Arunachalam, Carnegie Mellon University, Betsy Fleischer and Gopal Rao of the Materials Research Society. Before doing so, we had written the following, now dated, statement on instrumentation.

The development of scientific instrumentation has had a major impact on the development of modern science in general and of materials science and engineering (MSE) in particular. The capabilities of scientific instrumentation is acknowledged to have progressed by leaps and bounds. New instruments have been invented. For example, atomic resolution has been achieved with the invention of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) in the 1980s. But perhaps the aggregate of many small steps is more important than such spectacular advances? Many instruments have been improved in terms of durability, ease of use, price, and precision. For example, monochromatic x-rays can be targeted with much greater precision than half a century ago. Much has to do with the improvement of vacuum technology and the use of new and better suited materials - the latter of course being the result of MSE. The use of computers has also impacted upon instrumentation in a number of ways. Data analysis has of course been accelerated and has enabled new paths. The STM, for instance, relies on a feedback system in which the movement of the tip at every moment depends upon calculations involving the position and measurement at that time. Without computers, no STM! (Well, strictly speaking this is not true, as interviews with early protagnosists have made clear - these interviews will be featured soon. Binnig and Rohrer themselves, and also Erik Laegsgaard in Denmark, built STMs just using analog feedback systems and even analog output. But since the late 1980s, computers have been used ubiquitously both for the feedback system and for the output.) Computers have generally automated much experimentation, such as the positioning of probes.

Do you agree with the statement above? Does its emphasis represent the recent history of scientific instrumentation well or not?

We also have this old page:

This page was written and last updated on 28 October 2002 by Arne Hessenbruch.