The future of the world with materials science and engineering

December 22, 1999

Devices that allow us to 'talk' to fish, machines the size of a human hair, implants controlled by the chemicals in our bodies, and super-light weight space stations could all be a part of our technological future. Launching the new millennium with a preview of some of the materials technologies that will be shaping our tomorrows, Materials World has gathered together the thoughts of four leading materials scientists on what they think the materials technologies of the future will be.

"The next generation of biomaterials will actually help direct the healing process," says Dr Richard France from the University of Sheffield, UK. "Materials will be able to interact with individual cells by responding to specific chemical signals - making more natural and effective repairs to our bodies." One such advancement could stem from some researchers in Switzerland who are working on polymer gels that can be used to seal and repair arterial defects.

Ceramics will be crucial to the success of tomorrow's key technologies, says Professor Robert Newnham from Penn State University, USA. "Whether scaling-up for engineering megaworks or scaling down for tiny electronic and optical components that disappear inside integrated organic systems, ceramics will play a vital role," he says. One such technology is the development of PZT hydrophone arrays and high-speed spectrum analysis that could be used to record and translate "fish talk" -- a useful tool should we come to rely on aquaculture to feed the world's growing population. "The scale of such fish farming would be comparable to cattle ranching in the Wild West," says Newnham.

Nanotechnology will be a £multi-billion industry in the 21st Century, says Professor George Smith from the University of Oxford. Nanotechnology will bring a new world full of opportunity for technologically advanced nations thanks to rapid improvements in electronics, communications, computing and medical treatments. Research is currently working towards these nano-goals especially in the area of functional nanotechnology where nanostructured materials have been developed that could lead to quantum-sized wires, transistors and lasers. "Huge progress has already been made in the development of methods for fabrication and characterisation of materials at the nanometre scale," says Smith, "Commercial exploitation of nanotechnology is just beginning."

Space exploration will be taken to new heights thanks to the novel materials and manufacturing processes being developed as part of the space programme. "Through the introduction of new materials technology we are progressing towards the goals of lighter, cheaper and better," says Dr Barrie Dunn from the European Space Agency. "Satellites are innovative objects that frequently demand advances in both materials and mechanical engineering," says Dunn. "In order to meet these aims chemists, metallurgists, electrical, structural and materials engineers are combining their skills in intensive research collaborations."

Full copies of the following articles can be downloaded from

  • Biomaterials join in the regeneration game by Dr Richard France, University of Sheffield, UK

  • Ceramics into the next millennium by Professor Robert Newnham, Penn State University, USA

  • Counting up the benefits of nanotechnology by Professor George Smith, University of Oxford, UK

  • New materials in space by Dr Barrie Dunn, European Space Agency, The Netherlands

    1. Contact details for the authors of the articles can be found on the relevant web-page.
    2. Materials World is the journal of The Institute of Materials, the international organisation for materials scientists and engineers. The views expressed in the articles are the views of the authors and are not necessarily the views of Materials World, IOM Communications or any other organisation with which they may be associated.
    3. Materials Congress 2000, the largest international meeting of materials scientists, engineers and technicians in the UK, will be taking place on 12-14 April 2000.
    4. For more information on the Institute of Materials, Materials World or Materials Congress 2000, please contact: Andrew McLaughlin, tel: 44-20-7451-7395, email: or Dr Steve Hill, tel: 44-20-7451-7321, email:

    Institute of Materials

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