The interdisciplinarity field of materials science, also commonly termed materials science and engineering, involves the discovery and design of new materials, with an emphasis on solids and processing-structure-properties relationships.
The intellectual origins of materials science stem from the Enlightenment, when researchers began to use analytical thinking from chemistry, physics, and engineering to understand ancient, phenomenological observations in metallurgy and mineralogy. Materials science still incorporates elements of physics, chemistry, and engineering. As such, the field was long considered by academic institutions as a sub-field of these related fields. Beginning in the 1940s, materials science began to be more widely recognized as a specific and distinct field of science and engineering, and major technical universities around the world created dedicated schools of the study.
Many of the most pressing scientific problems humans currently face are due to the limits of the materials that are available.
Materials science is a syncretic discipline hybridizing metallurgy, ceramics, solid-state physics, and chemistry. It is the first example of a new academic discipline emerging by fusion rather than fission. Many of the most pressing scientific problems humans currently face are due to the limits of the materials that are available. Thus, breakthroughs in materials science are likely to affect the future of technology significantly.
Materials scientists emphasize understanding how the history of a material (its processing) influences its structure, and thus the material’s properties and performance. The understanding of processing-structure-properties relationships is called the § materials paradigm. This paradigm is used to advance understanding in a variety of research areas, including nanotechnology, biomaterials, and metallurgy. Materials science is also an important part of forensic engineering and failure analysis — investigating materials, products, structures or components which fail or which do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. Such investigations are key to understanding, for example, the causes of various aviation accidents and incidents.
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