This blog was inspired by Kagiso Loeto’s talk in our Speaker Series.
What is materials science?
Materials science is an interdisciplinary subject mainly focused on physics and chemistry. Materials scientists study the relationships between the structure and properties of a material and how it is made. They also develop new materials and devise processes for manufacturing them.
Materials science is vital for developments in nanotechnology, quantum computing, batteries and nuclear fusion, as well as medical technologies such as bone replacement materials.
Materials science is key in how materials are used to make everyday objects. For example, gallium nitrate is used in LED lights for its semi-conductive property.
Materials science teaches us what things are made of and why they behave as they do.
Image Source: https://www.lindau-nobel.org/blog-big-data-analytics-deliver-materials-science-insights/
Why is it useful?
Materials science improves our quality of life on a day-to-day basis by solving real-world problems such as climate change, and accelerating the introduction of new technologies. The transition into green energy is an example of how materials science is very useful.
It also helps with comparing the costs, impacts on the environment and the quality of materials when new technology is considered to be used in everyday life.
By studying trends in different materials, materials science makes new technologies more efficient and cost-effective which helps engineers revolutionise our world quicker.
It is useful in many sectors such as: healthcare, biotechnology, transport, etc.
Breakthroughs in materials science
The lithium-ion battery, which today powers everything from our smartphones to our autonomous cars, was first proposed in the 1970s.
Lithium-ion batteries will continue to play a major role in renewable energy storage, helping bring down solar and wind energy prices to compete with those of coal and gasoline.
It is nearly weightless, but 200 times stronger than steel. Conducting electricity and dissipating heat faster than any other known substance, this super-material has transformative applications.
Graphene enables sensors and even gel that helps neurons communicate in the spinal cord. Many flexible device screens, drug delivery systems, 3D printers, solar panels, and protective fabric use graphene to strengthen materials, whilst adding very little weight.
The conversion efficiency of the average solar panel (a measure of how much captured sunlight can be turned into electricity), is approximately 16 % at a cost of roughly $3 per watt.
Perovskite, a light-sensitive crystal and a new material being tested, has the potential to get that up to 66 %, which would double what silicon panels can convert.
Perovskite’s ingredients are widely available and inexpensive to combine making affordable solar energy.
Crystals of Perovskite on a matrix Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perovskite
Materials science is highly underappreciated as people do not recognise it as a factor contributing to advancements in technology and it is not a subject that is talked about enough.
In conclusion, materials science is becoming more important in our modern world as it is a catalyst to solving many of our problems worldwide.Thank you for reading!