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ADVANCING MATERIALS RESEARCH




ADVANCING MATERIALS RESEARCH

National Academy of Engineering National Academy of Sciences

with the participation of the National Materials Advisory Board and the

Solid State Sciences Committee of the National Research Council



The field of materials research has an extended past as well as a long and promising future. As an area of human technical endeavor it is as old as Homo faber—the first member of our species to seek a stone or piece of wood to help accomplish a difficult task. The field came a long way as an empirical art in the hands of successive generations of individuals who sought to reach out ever further in helping their local societies develop a better physical relationship with the surrounding world. The edge of a stone sharpened by flaking was better for cutting or scraping than a typical natural stone. Flint and obsidian had great advantages over the more common fieldstone. A hafted stone hammer could be more effective in certain situations than a stone merely held in the hand. Copper,and particularly bronze, was less brittle and more malleable than stone.Moreover, it was learned that the metals could be melted and cast into form. Iron eventually proved better than bronze, and was much more available than copper and tin once one learned to reduce its ores with carbon, although it was probably first used in the relatively rare meteoric form—“skystone” to the ancients.
Perhaps what is most significant about materials research throughout its history is that, in parallel with the development of social organization and advances in the art of language, it tended to be a major limiting factor in determining the rate at which civilization could advance. The effectiveness of
equipment of all kinds is conditioned in substantial part by the materials of which it is made. The nature and quality of materials in a device are as important as the ingenuity with which it is designed. Moreover, improvements in equipment have increased working efficiency and permitted greater freedom in society to promote both the expansion of population and the degree of specialization of those engaged in arts, crafts, and the management







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