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History of materials science

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The History of materials science is the study of how different materials were used as influenced by the history of Earth and the culture of the peoples of the Earth.

The materials used by different cultures in most cases were the only records left for anthropologists to define the civilization. The progressive use of more sophisticated materials showed an innovative divide between peoples. This is partially due to the major material of use in that culture and its associated benefits and drawbacks. Stone Age cultures were limited by which stone could be found in the local area and what could be traded for at high cost. The use of flint around 300,000 BCE is sometimes considered the beginning of the use of ceramics.

The innovation of smelting and reforming metals in the Bronze Age changed the entire why that cultures developed and interacted with each other. Native metals of copper and gold were reshaped without the use of fire for tools and weapons starting around 5500 BCE. Copper began to be heated and shaped with hammers around 5000 BCE. Melting and casting around 4000 BCE. Metallurgy had its dawn with the reduction of copper from its ore around 3500 BCE. And finally, the first alloy, bronze came into use around 3000 BCE.

Wood, bone, stone, and earth are some of the materials which formed the structures of the Roman empire. Certain structures were made possible by the character of the land upon which these structures are built; a volcanic peninsula with stone aggregates and conglomerates containing crystalline material, will produce material which weathers differently from soft, sedimentary rock and silt.  That is one of the reasons that the concrete Pantheon of Rome could last for 1850 years. And why the thatched farmhouses of Holland sketched by Rembrandt have long since decayed.

After the thighbone daggers of the early hunter-gatherers were superseded by wood and stone axes, and then by copper, bronze and iron implements of the Roman civilization, more precious materials could then be sought, and gathered together. Thus the medieval goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini could seek and defend the gold which he had to turn into objects of desire for dukes and popes. His autobiography contains one of the first descriptions of a metallurgical process.

Galileo's Two New Sciences (strength of materials and kinematics) includes the first quantitative statements in the science.


Modern Materials Science

In the early part of the 20th century, most engineering schools had a department of metallurgy and perhaps of ceramics as well. Much effort was expended on consideration of the austenite-martensite-cementite phases found in the iron-carbon phase diagram that underlies steel production. The fundamental understanding of other materials was not sufficiently advanced for them to be considered as academic subjects. In the post-WWII era, the systematic study of polymers advanced particularly rapidly. Rather than create new polymer science departments in engineering schools, administrators and scientists began to conceive of materials science as a new interdisciplinary field in its own right, one that considered all substances of engineering importance from a unified point of view. Northwestern University instituted the first materials science department in 1955.

The Materials Research Society (MRS) has been instrumental in creating an identity and cohesion for this young field. MRS was the brainchild of researchers at Penn State University and grew out of discussions initiated by Prof. Rustum Roy in 1970. The first meeting of MRS was held in 1973. As of 2006, MRS has grown into an international society that sponsors a large number of annual meetings and has over 13,000 members. MRS sponsors meetings that are subdivided into symposia on a large variety of topics as opposed to the more focused meetings typically sponsored by organizations like the American Physical Society or the IEEE. The fundamentally interdisciplinary nature of MRS meetings has had a strong influence on the direction of science, particularly in the popularity of the study of soft materials, which are in the nexus of biology, chemistry, physics and mechanical and electrical engineering.

See also


  • Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) Autobiography.
  • Galileo, 1638 Two New Sciences. Leiden: Louis Elsevier.
  • 20th anniversary issue of MRS Bulletin from 1973.
  • Northwestern University press release about 50th anniversary of its Materials Science Department in 2005.
  • Solid State Science: Past, Present and Predicted, edited by D.L. Weaire and C.G. Windsor, ISBN 0-85274-584-2.

Materials scientists

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "History_of_materials_science". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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