I guess I didn’t really talk about why I find my field so awesome. I realized that’s a bit weird to just say, so I think I’ll tell a story.
My folks were in town for a long weekend, and we were going on some tours at MIT. One of the tours we went on was at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology. This is an MIT affiliated research facility that is also closely connected to a few major companies as well as the U.S. Military. At any rate, as we were taking the tour, we were shown all sorts of cool technologies and told about amazing discoveries and possibilities. They have a whole list of ideas that they’re focusing on. Both at this facility and at many different materials research groups, there is a large focus on creating lighter weight materials that can be functionalized to do certain things, such as protect from chemicals, act as waterproofing, defend against puncture, and many other properties. Materials can be developed that are stronger, harder, more thermally resistant, or other beneficial properties.
There is also a move towards medical materials and devices that are extremely helpful in the battlefield, but can eventually be transitioned to be used by local EMTs and emergency room doctors. In fact, one story I heard there that really managed to wow my mother (and pretty much everyone else there, including me!) was about a boy who was born missing some of the bones of his ribs. Materials scientists and biologists are working to help him and others like him to live more normal lives. As noted in this CNN/TIME article (in the second to last paragraph) Robert “Langer is using tailor-made polymers to build tiny scaffolds that can then be seeded with skin, cartilage, liver or other cells. The idea is to provide a temporary structure that cells can colonize and upon which they can eventually grow into a functioning organ — at which point the scaffold dissolves away”. How cool is that? They’re building new bones for this kid!
To learn more about Materials Science, you can check this page out. I actually went to see the exhibit that this site is for when it was nearby. And I even wore one of the geeky materials shirts I got from my department. But it was cool to see all the cool stuff there, and I recognized the names on some of the presentations…my professors were cited in many of the displays! This site is pretty good because it has a general overview, but also has plenty of links to other sources of information.
If you’d like to learn more about nanomaterials and other nano-things, I recommend checking out the website for the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
Well, that’s enough science for now. While you’re being awed by how cool science is, you should also probably check out TIME’s Best Inventions of 2008. Many of the inventions were made possible by advancements in science and engineering!