Materials science, also commonly known as materials science and engineering, is an
interdisciplinary field which deals with the discovery and design of new materials. This
relatively new scientific field involves studying materials through the materials paradigm
(synthesis, structure, properties and performance). It incorporates elements of physics and
chemistry, and is at the forefront of nano science and nanotechnology research. In recent years,
materials science has become more widely known as a specific field of science and engineering.
Importance of Materials
A material is defined as a substance (most often a solid, but other condensed phases can be
included) that is intended to be used for certain applications. There are a myriad of materials
around us—they can be found in anything from buildings to spacecrafts. Materials can generally
be divided into two classes: crystalline and non-crystalline. The traditional examples of materials
are metals, ceramics and polymers. New and advanced materials that are being developed
include semiconductors, nanomaterials, biomaterials etc.
The material of choice of a given era is often a defining point. Phrases such as Stone Age,
Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Steel Age are great examples. Originally deriving from the
manufacture of ceramics and its putative derivative metallurgy, materials science is one of the
oldest forms of engineering and applied science. Modern materials science evolved directly from
metallurgy, which itself evolved from mining and (likely) ceramics and the use of fire. A major
breakthrough in the understanding of materials occurred in the late 19th century, when the
American scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs demonstrated that the thermodynamic properties related
to atomic structure in various phases are related to the physical properties of a material.
Important elements of modern materials science are a product of the space race: the
understanding and engineering of the metallic alloys, and silica and carbon materials, used in the
construction of space vehicles enabling the exploration of space. Materials science has driven,
and been driven by, the development of revolutionary technologies such as plastics,
semiconductors, and biomaterials.