Materials Research Activities

Robert Cahn: 1967 report on applied science and technological progress by the National Academies of Sciences for the US House of Representatives

Robert Cahn on:

National Academy of Sciences, Applied Science and Technological Progress - A Report to the Committee on Science and Astronautics - US House of Representatives - 1967

In 1965, the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives requested the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to prepare a report on the special problems of basic research and its support by the Federal Governrment in the United States. This report was transmitted to the Committee in March 1965. A little later, the Academy was invited to prepare another report, this time on (in the words of Frederick Seitz, the President of the Academy) "the special problems of effective applications of the resources of science to advances in technology." I saw a mention of this second report, published in June 1967, and promptly sent for a copy from the U.S. Government Printing Office (at the lofty price of $1.50). It seems that very few copies can have been printed for sale, because I have never encountered anyone else who had seen it. For my part, I have cited it, and quoted from it, steadily for the past 36 years. My interest was primarily in those chapters of the book (3 in number) which were focused, to a greater or lesser degree, on materials, because at the time I had just begun to create the first undergraduate course in materials science in Britain, at the University of Sussex, and this book was published 8 years before the huge COSMAT Report on 'Materials and Man's Needs' which could otherwise have helped me in my efforts. However, when the book arrived, I saw that its interest to me was much wider than that, and moreover, it was obvious that this interest would not be time-bound.

The fact that this splendid book is so little known outside 'The Hill' and that its wisdom remains so relevant today, was my reason for agitating for its reissue and much wider circulation. Fortunately, today, we have the convenience of the Worldwide Web, and so there is no need for expensive paper and print. It is not necessary for me to list the large roster of very eminent authors or what they wrote about; the Table of Contents can serve for that (reproduced above). As a materials scientist, I wish to draw special attention to just two of the chapters: (1) Cases of research and development in a diversified company, by C. Guy Suits and Arthur M. Bueche. The company was GE,the authors were both former directors of research, and the chapter consists of scrupulously prepared case-histories of a number of major innovations during the preceding decade, with careful attention to the antecedents, personnel, patents and key publications relating to each of them. This chapter is the very model of how such case-histories should be put together. (2) Applied Science and Manufacturing Technology, by Donald Frey and J.E. Goldman. They present case histories of many materials-related innovations in U.S. industry and how they sprang from previous scientific research. I was particularly impressed by the account of Percy Bridgman's academic research on metal forming under high hydrostatic pressure and how his findings were applied to permit very large deformations without intermediate annealing in manufacturing practice.
All of the chapters go into specific detail and draw broad conclusions, and there is little handwaving. There are hardly any illustration, but the book is none the worse for that. At the beginning of the book, a long (unsigned) Introduction draws the threads together and is followed by the first chapter, by Harvey Brooks of Harvard, under the title "Applied research: definitions, concepts, themes". This is one of those rare technical books which does not date. I am extremely pleased that it is to occupy, once again, its deserved place in the sun.

Prof. Robert W. Cahn, FRS
Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, University of Cambridge

This page was last updated on 15 May 2004 by Arne Hessenbruch