||In 1960, there was no field as such with the name materials in it.
There was much research going in many other fields that may well now
be recognized as materials research, but at the time, scientists did
not think of materials research as a coherent field.
|By 1975, many institutions were named something with materials;
there were for instance several university departments called Materials
Science & Engineering. The illustration on the right, taken from
the COSMAT report, seeks to position materials science and engineering
within a map of disciplines. Note that pure science is in the center
and applied at the periphery.
||Now, it is no longer feasible to draw any such maps of disciplines.
The distinction between pure and applied is no longer seen to work,
and many people work in fields that overlap. For example, some people
work to apply nanotechniques to research on biocompatible materials
and it might still be seen as a part of surface science. Attendees
from departments with just about any conceivable name (say, from Electrical
Engineering to Molecular Biology) at the annual meetings of the Materials
Research Society freely borrow from each other.
These changing boundaries are an important aspect of the history of materials
research. It may well be history still in the making: who would wager
that the categories we have now will survive forever?
Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) may well be a multi-discipline,
rather than a discipline, in the sense that it is so large and diverse
that a great many sub-fields can survive within it. It is very similar
to chemistry with its sub-fields of organic and inorganic chemistry; or
to physics with its division into high-energy and solid state. But perhaps
the diversity within the sub-fields of MSE is even greater. If only for
this reason, one cannot understand the history of MSE without narrowing
one's focus and delving into the peculiarities of some of the sub-fields.
However, the term sub-fields conveys a meaning of stability that is inappropriate
in materials research. Many of the "sub-fields" in the above
list have a degree of autonomy in that they have their own specialized
journals and in that university courses and text-books may be focused
on just one of them. But the examination of, say, the change in symposia
topics of the Materials Research Society (MRS) annual meetings reveals
that the overlap between them has changed with time. To convey the dynamic
nature of the protean materials research field, we have decided to phrase
this category of ours "changing boundaries" instead. We were
prompted to do so by the Executive Director of the MRS, John Ballance,
and we have had help from many others to find the most appropriate categories
of "sub-fields" existing now. We are hoping to find individuals
who can help us write the history of each "sub-field". Can you?
Then please send an e-mail. One of the
points of John Ballance is that materials research differs from an older
discipline than physics, in that it seeks more readily to adapt to changes
and doesn't define a core activity as its own. The Materials Research
Society seeks to stay correspondingly nimble.
This page was last updated on 16 October
2002 by Arne Hessenbruch.