Professor Mark Miodownik talks about how a greater understanding of the materials both by scientists and society as a whole will help shape our world and meet the challenges facing us this century.
The relationship between society and materials is most obviously demonstrated in the naming of ages of civilisations, such as the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.
Despite the long history of materials development, materials science as a distinct discipline only came of age in the 20th century. It was brought into existence as a result of two developments.
Firstly, society needed to understand complex materials, on which it was becoming ever more dependent such as the silicon chip, jet engine alloys, plastics, optical fibres, medical implants, etc. Secondly, it became increasing clear that materials could not be understood by the study of physics, chemistry or biology alone.
Materials science in the 21st century is making a world possible where buildings harvest their own energy, bridges repair themselves, and clothes increase life expectancy by monitoring health. Many possible realities are possible, each driven by different cultural and economic forces. We could find ourselves in the grip of mass migrations, with declining life expectancy, and dealing with global pollution. Which future will we choose?