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From Craft to Science in Two Centuries
It may seem hard to believe, but it has been only in the last 200 years that we humans have understood elemental science well enough and had the instrumentation necessary to go beyond fabricationtaking a material more or less in its raw form and making something out of it. Once we began to explore the basic structure and properties of materials, a wealth of discoveries ensued:
Ceramics with distinctive electrical properties that make it possible to miniaturize wireless communications devices ranging from cellular telephones to global positioning technologies.
A totally new family of materials called organic metals: conductive polymers (compounds assembled like chains, with numerous units linked together to form a whole) that are soluble, can be processed, and whose potential applications include "smart" window coatings with optical and transparency properties that can be changed electrically.
An optic layer that fits over liquid crystal displays to maintain high contrast even when the display is viewed from an anglenow used in instrument panels of military and commercial aircraft.
Nonlinear optical crystals of lithium niobate, a unique combination of materials that is ideal for many laser applications.
Artificial skin that bonds to human tissue so successfully that many burn victims now heal with a fraction of the scarring that once was considered inevitable.
NSF-funded research played a pivotal role in all of these and many other innovations. Through support of individual researchers and multidisciplinary centers around the country, NSF is fueling a vast number of diverse projects in materials science and engineering. Undertaken for the purpose of advancing knowledge, many materials sciences projects also have industry co-sponsors who eagerly anticipate commercialization of the results.