Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Testify, Professor!

Glenn Reynolds has a new article on Tech Cetral describing some of the items brought up in a EPA advisory board meeting on nanotechnology. This is the new field in which the imagination boggles at the concievable.

The good professor describes the near term applications of nanotechnology in materials development as:

"The impact of high- strength materials, for example, is likely to be much greater than people generally realize. Materials science isn't sexy the way that, say, robots are sexy, but when you can cut the weight, or boost the strength, of aircraft, or spacecraft, or even automobiles by a factor of ten or fifty, the consequences are enormous."

I am one of the lucky people for whom the decision of what to do in life became clear in a moment. It was early January, 1990, and I was reading the previous month's National Geographic. One of the features of that issue was a look at advanced materials, everything from polymers to superalloys, composites to superconductors. At the time I was having a blast (fortunately not literally) in my high school chemistry class, and these new fields were fascinating. Now, I run a lab that maintains and develops repair techniques for gas turbine engines.

Materials science draws little attention in the wider technological world. When I graduated with my engineering class, at the ceremony there were 500 computer science grads, 500 electrical, 250 structural, and 14 materials scientists. To say materials science isn't seen as sexy is a slight understatement.

The impact of materials science, however, still has potentials in fields that have yet to understood. I have worked with material applications that replace highly polluting processes. A great friend of mine has worked on polymer lattices that would allow for cloned tissues to grow vascular paths and become fully functional replacement organs.

Structural, aerospace, and automotive engineers may have the glory of pushing the envelope, but it is materials science that defines the size of the envelope they have to start with.

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