What are materials?
Questions such as “what are materials?” or “what does a material scientist or engineer do?” probably confronts every aspiring student interested in the field.

It is, all said and done, a material world. Indeed, the impact of materials on human civilization has been so great, that various stages in the development of human society derive their names from the materials that were used, such as the stone age, the bronze age and the iron age to the current silicon age. In the future nanomaterials are expected to play a critical role in enabling nanotechnology. Nature abounds with materials of all kinds that can be broadly classified into organic (carbon based) and inorganic. Materials such as wood, parts of the human body itself and plastics would fall in the former category. Metals such as iron and aluminum and ceramics such as iron oxide and aluminum oxide form the latter category.

The job of the material scientist begins where that of the mining engineer ends. Many of the materials available in nature cannot be used directly in the physical and chemical state they are mined. They need to be processed into other forms and thus, materials processing forms the first activity of a materials scientist or engineer. The processed materials are then studied to understand their structure, their properties and the correlation between the two. In order to understand structure and properties various characterization methods are used. The understanding gained is fed back into the first processing steps to process materials with a specific structure and with the desired properties. Thus, processing, structure, properties and characterization form the four corner stones of the study on materials. The aim of all this effort is two fold. One, to satisfy the sheer curiosity of man to understand the nature of materials. At this end, material science shares borders with the basic sciences of physics, chemistry and biology. Two, to design materials with specific properties that would perform in a particular way. At this end, materials science, which began where mining left off, starts giving way to other branches of engineering such as mechanical, electrical, electronics, civil and so on. While these borders were better defined in the past, with the advent of nanomaterials and nanotechnology, they are getting increasingly blurred.

If you are a graduate, among others, in materials science, materials engineering, metallurgy, ceramics, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical and electronics engineering you might find research being done at MRC that is of interest to you. This list is not meant to discourage students from other branches, who are also welcome to explore possibilities at MRC. Go to the MRC home page and click on the various photographs to see examples of materials processing, structure-property correlations and characterization from research being done at MRC.

What is Nanotechnology and What are Nanomaterials?
A nanometer is equal to 10-9 meter. Atoms, which are often modeled as solid spheres, are typically about 0.3 nm in diameter, human hair is 1000 nm in diameter and the typical human being has a height of the order of 1000000000 nm (1 m!).

The field of nanomaterials, involves materials that have at least one dimension of the order of 100 nm or less. Processing and studying materials with such small dimensions presents its own challenges. Imagine splitting a human hair into two along its length. Difficult, right? Now imagine splitting some thing that is 1/10 th the size. Even more difficult, aye? Nanomaterial scientists process and study materials that are even smaller.

The term nanotechnology, as the name would suggest involves technologies based on dimensions of the order 1000 nanometers or less. The computer chip that enables you to read this article is the best example. A typical feature size on this chip is about 65 nm and is the best example of the success of nanotechnology.

For more information on nanomaterials and nanotechnology at MRC visit the home page and click on the photos.