National Materials Advancement Award

William O. Baker

Acceptance talk at Federation of Materials Societies, Washington, DC

December 10, 1987


Now that glasnost can be suitably succeeded by the glassy state, we are nevertheless further alert to a changed world. We are in the conventional condition of wondering and preparing for the future, while slightly uneasy that it is already here. This does mean that mind-sets and expectations are important, not only for international politics and security, but for industry, economy, technology, and science as well.

Expectations are especially energizing. Indeed, instinctive scientific and technical expectations of President Eisenhower added crucial impetus to the origins of the present national multidisciplinary laboratory and academic progress in materials research, and development. But the Federation of Materials Societies represents a far larger arena than even the vast horizons of materials R&D. Its member societies and thousands of constituents practice materials science, engineering, production, and economics in ways whose history of achievement paralleling that of civilization itself, curiously can even be a drag on mindsets and policies important for materials now and in the next century.

This seeming anomaly arises because national and international attention are nowadays focused on high-tech enterprises. These are so named since they reflect both politically and economically, the applications of the scientific and technical shaping of modern affairs. They involve indeed the nucleus, the crystal, the cell—the cosmos—energy information and communications, biomedicine, and space exploration. But the interesting fact is that those so graciously represented here know firsthand that materials have been and will be the essence of each of these vital and dynamic frontiers. So this is a welcome occasion to emphasize that the expectations and strategies of materials technology, engineering and applications, must now recognize the intrinsic high-tech nature of the field—of its industry, of its educational elements and of its governmental, and political and economic impacts. For instance, the President's new Critical Materials Council, under the lively leadership of Bob Wilson, is properly concerned with synthetic and composite structures, reaching far beyond the conventional stockpiling or access to raw materials. The policy being shaped also is sharply aware of the demands on mine and forest to meet exacting design specifications hardly known in the factories of a decade or more ago.

Similarly, in the new mode of recognizing the high-tech responsibilities of engineered materials, the Office of Technology Assessment will be issuing early next year, and now in its final draft form, an astute and expert articulation of what high-performance composites and polymer solids can do in a wide range of mechanical, electrical, environmental and chemical behavior. These substances will have a prime role in the competitive commercial and national security products of the next decade. Indeed, this report, “Advanced Materials by Design—New Structural Materials Technologies” under the leadership of Dr. Gregg Eyring of the OTA with the OTA Advisory Panel chaired by Mr. Rodney Nichols, is a fine illustration of the positions we are advocating. These involve new and refreshing commitments to the high-tech tactics which the materials profession represented here, its industry and academic bases, should henceforth pursue. Similarly, the National Academy of Engineering as well as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, are strengthening this pattern of advanced education and academic research being joined directly with materials science, and engineering in the frontiers of virtually every high-tech activity.

Thus, the 25th Anniversary of the National Multidisciplinary Laboratory program, whose origins and impact from the beginnings in the White House Science Office to the present, have been documented in the notable volume assembled by Dr. Jessie Ausabel and entitled, Advancing Materials Research, and in the forthcoming COSEPUP study of the National Academy of Sciences, and the farsighted program documents for engineering objectives of the National Academy of Engineering, we see mounting evidence of what detailed knowledge can mean to industrial and governmental gains in efficiency, performance, and endurance of matter. To get such knowledge it requires the scope and variety of materials production and usage represented by the component members of the FMS. For this is a powerful way to bring out the future potentials in this field. We can now, with the advantage of these several decades of experience of coupling with high-tech systems, look forward with confidence to the appropriate effort and ingenuity when they are exercised.

This is best illustrated by recalling briefly, some of the endeavors which have already gone along. Even primary schoolbooks now cite the transistor and the semiconductor era as transforming modern life. All of you who have lived through it know that purification and growth of single crystals, such as by W.B. Pfann's zone leveling techniques, are the controlling stages of preparation whether of power rectifiers or thin film, and integrated circuit elements for computers and communications in all forms. The range of talents involved is reflected in the circumstance that of the 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences and the 55 members of the National Academy of Engineering, that have emerged in our time, from our laboratories alone, the marked majority have been experts in some phase of materials work. It spreads from solid-state physics to molecular beam epitaxial engineering of multiple quantum well structures to circuit design!

In outer space, science and technology, ablative nose cones of defending missiles and the heat shields of all manned space and instrument-recovered vehicles except the shuttle, came from basic studies of polymer dehydrogenation and pyrolytic conversion to polymer carbon networks. These findings then formed the basis later for polymer carbon composites, since we found that the modulus of elasticity of these carbon networks, while less than that of diamond, vastly exceeds that of ordinary reinforcing fibers.

Accordingly, the best gains in automobile drive shafts, in certain elements of body construction that increasingly in elements of aircraft, use these composites. Even earlier, polymer science permitted the substitution of lead in cables for electric and telecommunications distribution worldwide. Vastly lighter and highly durable polyolefin jackets were developed. We are now seeing increasingly materials substitution for many joints, tissues, and even functioning organs like heart valves in systems of the human body.

Photonics, a high-tech frontier inspired by the invention of the laser by Schawlow and Townes, is speedily spreading world-wide through materials research and development. Our transfer of silicon chemistry and engineering into historic silicon oxide glass technology has produced ocean-spanning telecommunications cables beginning in 1988. These will be out-doing in cost and capacity even the newest satellite systems. The light guide fibers now developed have tensile strengths approaching 10-6 psi—what will commercial fiberglass composites be like in the 1990's?

No remarks in materials nowadays can omit superconductors. Here the Nb3 Sn family, discovered by Mathias years ago, have long been in practical use, perform superbly at liq. He temperatures, for magnetic resonance imaging, and accelerator magnets. The accent Y Ba2 Cu3 07-y family of Bednorz and Muller are a poignant reminder that the thousands of new chemical compounds synthesized yearly offer rich regions of materials opportunities.

But every element of materials progress requires combinations of the skills of the Twentieth Century. That underlies the invaluable role of the FMS. Its dozen professional societies, range from the American Chemical Society’s coverage of the most basic qualities of atoms, their, reactions and aggregates, to the IEEE's mastery of the most complex artificial systems ever yet designed and made, comprising all electric energy, computers and communications. This is exactly what it takes to activate the minds and methods which bring new matter, and new meanings, into human reach.

Whether the composites of the Voyager, or in the future Orient Express, the prosthetics of joint, kidney, lung or other organ transplant, the packages for fresher foods and assured medicines, enduring dwellings and safer roads, materials will embody the high technology they have already induced in information, communications and national security.

We are beginning the second phase in the Business/Higher Education Forum of assessing abilities of our country in global competition. This effort, following our report to the President in June of 1983, will be on American know-how. It joins with our report of 1987, to Congressional sponsors, entitled “Making America Work Again.” We find that certain technical bases underlie much of the social and economic gains we seek—materials usage and skills is a notable one. It accents the educational role of the FMS. The combined precollege and higher education impact of the FMS group is unsurpassed. in our intensive work on restoration of literacy and reform of public education, the Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), involving science, technology and mathematics, Professor MacVicar, Dr. Rutherford and I find the work of your materials societies is providing a special coherence and relevance in learning.

The continuity and interconnections that FMS engenders throughout materials fields are also valuable in allowing necessary time spans of initiative. We remember vividly when S. M. Arnold in our Chemical Laboratory discovered in whiskers, and aroused the curiosity of our colleagues, J. Galt and C. Herring in the Physics Lab. Thus began decades ago the high-strength crystal fiber era now surging ahead since the mid-Seventies, with Sic and other special fibers. In a materials history since the Stone Age, the brief 20th Century years of the solid state enlightenment will not exhaust the time needed to discover and to understand.

The FMS has long stimulated a record of how materials, science, and engineering have brought new dimensions of technical and economic progress into the last half of the 20th Century. So it is all well-known among your constituents that the Information and Communication Age, the space exploration, the components of our national security, have crucial dependents on materials. Likewise, the extraordinary combination of industry and academic roles have both augmented and guided essential governmental policies. This was formulated and documented in the American Society for Medals International lecture on “Materials and Society,” a decade ago. But today, materials strategies and policies discussed and forwarded then invite action and continue to challenge the PHS community. For example, the Congressional and Executive Branch action on critical materials, and the National Critical Materials Council of the President now being energized by Bob Wilson, were identified in 1976 as basic to the new needs of American industrial capabilities. Yet we are only now effectively integrating materials properties with automated and flexible manufacture with CAD/CAM and CIM. Quality assurance when discovered by our associate, Walter Shewhart, in the 1930's was early recognized by its practitioners to involve materials properties more intensely than any other single factor in design. But except for Japanese exploitation, this quantity remains also for future development.