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Making an Impact: Innovation in Materials Science

By: , Posted on: April 20, 2016

materials levitate

We crowded around the stage, curious and engaged. It was the first day of the MRS Spring 2016 Conference in Phoenix, Arizona and no one knew quite what to expect. The young scientist from the Arizona Science Center took out a tub of liquid nitrogen and demonstrated the strange phenomena of Magnetic Levitation. He poured the nitrogen over a high-temperature superconductor and the audience watched as the magnet appeared to float. He passed a finger under the magnet and then spun it to show how it maintained its plane.

No magic tricks here folks, just science. This year’s spring conference celebrated creative innovation and the latest advances in research in topics from bio-inspired electronics, flexible displays, and even quantum levitation. Thousands of researchers from Europe, Asia, and the U.S. gathered to attend and lead symposiums on the leading topics and latest research in materials science. It was a rare opportunity to exchange ideas and spark collaborations with the leading researchers in a wide range of subject areas from organic electronics to biomaterials.

As an editor for electronic, magnetic, and optical materials, I was thrilled to see so many symposiums dedicated to these topics. I was particularly excited by the sessions on wearable electronics, flexible displays, and printed electronics.

One of the key themes at the conference was how to translate research that begins in the laboratory to a consumable product in the marketplace. How does an idea become reality? This is an especially important question for materials science researchers, as advances in materials science can have a direct impact on the technologies the public engages with on a day-to-day basis.

I was inspired by the many talks on how to accelerate research from the lab to real-world applications. Stephen Forrest from the University of Michigan in his talk on Moving Innovation from the Lab to the Marketplace discussed how universities play a key role in the innovation chain. He said, “If we see a good idea in our laboratory, we will try to get it out to the hands of the people.” During the Technology Innovation Forum Keynote address, Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu at Stanford University also emphasized the importance of universities and national labs in the world’s innovation ecosystem.

However, it is not enough to innovate for innovation’s sake: A recurring theme in the invited talks was how to move beyond the typical impact factors that concern academic researchers to make a social impact. There were symposiums dedicated to Materials for Sustainable Development—connecting advances in materials science to a more sustainable future. Many of the sessions I attended were focused on how to make the materials more efficient, more reliable, and in the end be part of the solution. Power Electronics plays a part in this as Wide Bandgap Semiconductors could reduce up to 90% of power losses that occurs in electricity conversion.

The plenary session tied many of these themes together. Cato T. Laurencin gave a talk on Regenerative Engineering and spoke about UCONN’s research challenge of regenerating an entire limb in 15 years. “We need to create a new understanding, a new science, a new way of thinking to solve problems”. An ambitious goal, a goal that will have a true impact (especially for veterans), and research originating at a university.

I’m excited to be part of the materials community and can’t wait to see the innovation and social impact to arise from the many research efforts currently underway!

Our top picks for books relating to the themes from MRS are:

materials and sustainable development

Ashby/Materials and Sustainable Development 

IGBT device

Baliga/The IGBT Device

Regenerative Engineering of Musculoskeletal Tissues

Nukavarapu, Freeman, Laurencin/Regenerative Engineering of Musculoskeletal Tissues and Interfaces

Want to read more? Visit the Elsevier Store to browse our Materials books, and save up to 30% off your very own copy, enter STC215 at the checkout!

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Materials Science

The highly interdisciplinary field of materials science examines elements of applied physics and chemistry, as well as chemical, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering. Nanoscience and nanotechnology in particular have yielded major innovations in this area, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. Elsevier’s authoritative content in this area ranges from undergraduate textbooks to multi-volume reference works investigating the relationships between the structure of materials and their properties. Our journals (including Materials Today), books, and eBooks help researchers stay abreast of developments in this swiftly advancing field, coving major sub-disciplines like energy and power; metals and alloys; ceramics; composite materials; polymer science and biomaterials; interdisciplinary materials science; and structural materials.