Materials Science: A STEM Topic for Today

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Nanomaterials are smaller than 100 nanometers in one dimension of measurement. Copyright image by Decoded Science, all rights reserved.

Materials science is a wide-reaching discipline, with applications in a number of fields, including nanotechnology, environmental remediation, electronics, and engineering. But how do researchers use materials science in their various disciplines?

Nanotechnology

Let’s start with a definition: Nanotechnology is the science that works with nanomaterials, which are materials that have at least one dimension smaller than 100 nm (nanometers). This means the materials are more than 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Interestingly, at this tiny scale, materials have properties which are different from their properties at a larger scale. For instance gold nanoparticles are red, instead of the traditional yellow color. Other properties may be different as well, so scientists can use nanomaterials in different applications than they use the larger scaled materials. Science applies nanomaterials in many important fields, including biomedicine, electronics, and ceramics.

Advanced Materials for Biomedicine

The medical field relies on high-tech materials – Doctors could not successfully utilize bone implants or perform heart surgery, for instance, without the use of appropriate materials researched by materials scientists.

Scientists are always looking for ways to improve the use of materials in biomedicine – to find new materials, and to widen the applications of those materials we know are useful, and improve their performance.

Some of the challenges Materials Scientists face are developing materials with improved compatibility with our bodies. Biocompatibility means that the our bodies ‘tolerate’ the material, with minimal or no rejection. A good biomaterial should be biocompatible and, at the same time, have other properties, such as mechanical strength, and antibacterial .

Materials for Environmental Remediation

Environment pollution is becoming a serious problem, with pollution of air and water increasing. This is partly due to a wider global spread industrial activity, but also to the release into the environment of compounds (i.e. pharmaceuticals) which are not degraded by standard purification treatments.

Researchers are working all the time to develop innovative materials which can help deal with these problems. Some possible solutions for environment remediation, or removing the pollution from the environment include materials which can adsorb (or stick to) the pollutants. Other materials can degrade the pollutants, turning them into harmless compounds.

Materials for Electronics

All electronic devices we use – mobile phones, computers, and more – can only work thanks to materials with exceptional properties.

Today, we want always more advanced devices, such as telephones with better screens or with batteries that last longer. For this, we need to develop materials with improved performances.

One of the key challenges for Materials Scientists is miniaturization of devices. With miniaturization, researchers achieve the same performance (or even better) but with a smaller device, such as a smaller or lighter battery for a phone. Nanotechnology, again, can be a big help for research in these industries.

Materials for Engineering

The use of advanced materials for engineering is linked to many areas in our lives.

In the building industry, for instance, materials science led to the development of better house insulation, and more durable structures. In the transportation industry, the use of lighter or more resistant materials greatly improved the performances of our cars and planes. The formulation of new composites (materials made of more than one compound) is crucial to many practical applications, especially in engineering. That’s an area in which Materials Scientists excel.

STEM, Materials Science, and Decoded Science

Editorial Note: At Decoded Science, we believe that highlighting the latest advances in STEM fields is very important – and we think that supporting women in STEM will increase the diversity of research and ideas in the field. That’s why we’re working to launch an article series to focus on important research by women researchers in Materials Science. Dr. Piccirillo will be covering the above topics in this 6 article series, so stay tuned! 

You can learn more about this initiative by clicking the image below. 

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