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How do materials scientists work in order to get new materials?
Question Date: 2014-04-14
Answer 1:

What an excellent question!
Much like the rest of research, the process of finding new materials can often be quite non-linear.

One way that has emerged in the era of big data is the idea of generating tons of materials data and trying to learn from the trends that emerge. This can be accomplished experimentally or with supercomputers. Experimentally, it's possible by for instance just combining small amounts of some set of elements at various concentrations and ratios, and measuring whatever property you are looking for to see how the different concentrations and ratios affect each independent variable. It's a similar idea with supercomputers, where we let state-of-the-art computational techniques simulate new material combinations and see what kinds of new properties emerge. This practice is known as high-throughput materials discovery. You can learn more about it through the Materials Genome Initiative " (and the like, such as the Materials Project ).

In some instances, you can mine the data in existing literature to see what kinds of trends emerge. An example of this has been done with thermoelectric materials, a class of materials capable of turning heat into electricity and vice versa. However, it turns out that having enough, good quality materials property data is quite difficult. Even for basic materials properties like electrical conductivity, the scientific literature can vary significantly, and in some instances the measurement hasn't been done yet! The story gets more complicated as the process in which you make a new material can significantly change the property you measure. For instance, some materials can be grown crystalline (where there is long-range order to the atoms) or amorphous/glassy (where there is short-range order to the atoms) depending on the growth technique.

In this case, you can go about it the other way- try to identify common physical principles that enhance or suppress a certain material property and use your intuition and experience to figure out a potential new material. In this instance, you can conduct research to understand some physical phenomenon in-depth and use those insights to guide where to look next. This is where the periodic table comes in handy as it organizes elements in meaningful trends that can be translated into physical intuition for how materials themselves behave. Similarly, you can go about it using theoretical toy models that, while they don't represent an actual physical system, captures the meat of the problem.

Sometimes we discover new properties of known materials by subjecting them to new temperature and pressures. This is more or less what happened in the discovery of superconductors, materials that past a critical temperature have zero electrical resistance (read more about it here ). This has since launched the race to discover room-temperature superconductors.

And this is from where the richness of scientific research comes- there are so many ways to go about answering the same question and you're bound to learn something different in any method you choose!

Hope this helps,

Answer 2:

There are millions of materials in the world. To get new materials, there are a few directions:

1) A lot of materials have been made and studied. There are some knowledge obtained from those materials studied and that can help and guide for searching and making new materials. Some theoretical calculations can predict the existence of new materials.

2) Apparently the real materials can be quite different from one to another. We do not have the complete understanding of every aspects in material properties, so experiments are also quite important for the realization of new materials. There are also a lot of different ways of making materials. Those not possible in the past could possibly be realized in the future using advanced techniques, or simply a different crystal growth method.

3) Nature can always surprise us. Sometimes we get new materials from accident or simply in an unexpected way. Although the rate of success is probably low, this is another way of making new materials.

It is really hard to summarize all aspects in just few words, but I do believe the following key words are helpful in getting new materials: previous knowledge, theoretical prediction, experiment (with motivation), just try it.


Answer 3:

Materials scientists and other scientists work to get new materials in lots of different ways.

One way is almost by accident - we'll just come up with a cool new idea - maybe even in the shower!

Another way is by seeing a problem and working on ways to solve it. Building a better battery is always a problem to solve, because lots of energy is lost in putting energy into the battery and then taking out as much as one can get out of the battery. My husband and another physicist and I were talking about that problem in a restaurant in 1973, and the batteries are better now; but a lot of energy is still lost.

Some scientists work in a lab and do experiments. Other scientists work at computers and figure out models for making better materials, and then the scientists in the lab can do the experiments. The two kinds of science are called 'experiment' and 'theory.'

I came up with a cool new idea about how life on Earth might have started, just by accident, in March 2007. This weekend I'm going to a conference about the origin of life to present a poster with new stuff about my idea. Here's the link to my idea:

Granny Says Life Evolved Between the Mica Sheets - Live Science Granny says

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