Top Ten Emerging Material Sciences Technologies

Top Ten Emerging Material Sciences Technologies

  1. Nanomaterials / Carbon Nanotubes

    Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach to nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions. Nanoscale is usually defined as smaller than a one tenth of a micrometer in at least one dimension, though this term is sometimes also used for materials smaller than one micrometer. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs; also known as buckytubes) are allotropes of carbon with a cylindrical nanostructure. Nanotubes have been constructed with length-to-diameter ratio of up to 132,000,000:1, which is significantly larger than any other material. These cylindrical carbon molecules have novel properties that make them potentially useful in many applications in nanotechnology, electronics, optics and other fields of materials science, as well as potential uses in architectural fields. They exhibit extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and are efficient thermal conductors. Nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family, which also includes the spherical buckyballs. The ends of a nanotube might be capped with a hemisphere of the buckyball structure. Their name is derived from their size, since the diameter of a nanotube is on the order of a few nanometers (approximately 1/50,000th of the width of a human hair), while they can be up to 18 centimeters in length (as of 2010). Nanotubes are categorized as single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) and multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs). The nature of the bonding of a nanotube is described by applied quantum chemistry, specifically, orbital hybridization. The chemical bonding of nanotubes is composed entirely of sp2 bonds, similar to those of graphite. This bonding structure, which is stronger than the sp3 bonds found in diamonds, provides the molecules with their unique strength. Nanotubes naturally align themselves into “ropes” held together by Van der Waals forces.
  2. Metamaterials

    Metamaterials are artificial materials engineered to provide properties which may not be readily available in nature. These materials usually gain their properties from structure rather than composition, using the inclusion of small inhomogeneities to enact effective macroscopic behavior. The primary research in metamaterials investigates materials with negative refractive index. Negative refractive index materials appear to permit the creation of superlenses which can have a spatial resolution below that of the wavelength. In other work, a form of ‘invisibility’ has been demonstrated at least over a narrow wave band with gradient-index materials. Although the first metamaterials were electromagnetic, acoustic and seismic metamaterials are also areas of active research. Potential applications of metamaterials are diverse and include remote aerospace applications, sensor detection and infrastructure monitoring, smart solar power management, public safety, radomes, high-frequency battlefield communication and lenses for high-gain antennas, improving ultrasonic sensors, and even shielding structures from earthquakes. The research in metamaterials is interdisciplinary and involves such fields as electrical engineering, electromagnetics, solid state physics, microwave and antennae engineering, optoelectronics, classic optics, material sciences, semiconductor engineering, nanoscience and others.
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  3. Programmable Matter

    Programmable matter refers to matter which has the ability to change its physical properties (shape, density, moduli, optical properties, etc.) in a programmable fashion, based upon user input or autonomous sensing. Programmable matter is thus linked to the concept of a material which inherently has the ability to perform information processing.
  4. Self-Healing Materials

    Self-healing materials are a class of smart materials that have the structurally incorporated ability to repair damage caused by mechanical usage over time. The inspiration comes from biological systems, which have the ability to heal after being wounded. Initiation of cracks and other types of damage on a microscopic level has been shown to change thermal, electrical, and acoustical properties, and eventually lead to whole scale failure of the material. Usually, cracks are mended by hand, which is difficult because cracks are often hard to detect. A material (polymers, ceramics, etc.) that can intrinsically correct damage caused by normal usage could lower production costs of a number of different industrial processes through longer part lifetime, reduction of inefficiency over time caused by degradation, as well as prevent costs incurred by material failure.
  5. High-Temperature Superfluidity

    Superfluidity is a phase of matter in which viscosity of a fluid vanishes, while heat capacity becomes infinite. These unusual effects are observed when liquids, typically of helium-4 or helium-3, overcome friction in surface interaction at a stage (known as the “lambda point,” which is temperature and pressure, for helium-4) at which the liquid’s viscosity becomes zero. Also known as a major facet in the study of quantum hydrodynamics, it was discovered by Pyotr Kapitsa, John F. Allen, and Don Misener in 1937 and has been described through phenomenological and microscopic theories. In the 1950’s Hall and Vinen performed experiments establishing the existence of quantized vortex lines. In the 1960’s, Rayfield and Reif established the existence of quantized vortex rings. Packard has observed the intersection of vortex lines with the free surface of the fluid, and Avenel and Varoquaux have studied the Josephson effect in superfluid 4He.
  6. High-Temperature Superconductivity

    High-temperature superconductors (abbreviated high-Tc or HTS) are materials that have a superconducting transition temperature (Tc) above 30 K. From 1960 to 1980, 30 K was thought to be the highest theoretically possible Tc. The first high-Tc superconductor was discovered in 1986 by IBM Researchers Karl Müller and Johannes Bednorz, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987. Until Fe-based superconductors were discovered in 2008, the term high-temperature superconductor was used interchangeably with cuprate superconductor for compounds such as bismuth strontium calcium copper oxide (BSCCO) and yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO). “High-temperature” has three common definitions in the context of superconductivity: 1. Above the temperature of 30 K that had historically been taken as the upper limit allowed by BCS theory. This is also above the 1973 record of 23 K that had lasted until copper-oxide materials were discovered in 1986. 2. Having a transition temperature that is a larger fraction of the Fermi temperature than for conventional superconductors such as elemental mercury or lead. This definition encompasses a wider variety of unconventional superconductors and is used in the context of theoretical models. 3. Greater than the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (77 K or −196 °C). This is significant for technological applications of superconductivity because liquid nitrogen is a relatively inexpensive and easily handled coolant. Technological applications benefit from both the higher critical temperature being above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen and also the higher critical magnetic field (and critical current density) at which superconductivity is destroyed. In magnet applications the high critical magnetic field may be more valuable than the high Tc itself. Some cuprates have an upper critical field around 100 teslas. However, cuprate materials are brittle ceramics which are expensive to manufacture and not easily turned into wires or other useful shapes. Two decades of intense experimental and theoretical research, with over 100,000 published papers on the subject, have discovered many common features in the properties of high-temperature superconductors, but as of 2009, there is no widely accepted theory to explain their properties. Cuprate superconductors (and other unconventional superconductors) differ in many important ways from conventional superconductors, such as elemental mercury or lead, which are adequately explained by the BCS theory. There also has been much debate as to high-temperature superconductivity coexisting with magnetic ordering in YBCO, iron-based superconductors, several ruthenocuprates and other exotic superconductors, and the search continues for other families of materials. HTS are Type-II superconductors, which allow magnetic fields to penetrate their interior in quantized units of flux, meaning that much higher magnetic fields are required to suppress superconductivity. The layered structure also gives a directional dependence to the magnetic field response.
  7. Quantum Dots

    A quantum dot is a semiconductor whose excitons are confined in all three spatial dimensions. As a result, they have properties that are between those of bulk semiconductors and those of discrete molecules. They were discovered at the beginning of the 1980’s by Alexei Ekimov in a glass matrix and by Louis E. Brus in colloidal solutions. The term “Quantum Dot” was coined by Mark Reed. Researchers have studied quantum dots in transistors, solar cells, LEDs, and diode lasers. They have also investigated quantum dots as agents for medical imaging and hope to use them as qubits. In layman’s terms, quantum dots are semiconductors whose conducting characteristics are closely related to the size and shape of the individual crystal. Generally, the smaller the size of the crystal, the larger the band gap, the greater the difference in energy between the highest valence band and the lowest conduction band becomes, therefore more energy is needed to excite the dot, and concurrently, more energy is released when the crystal returns to its resting state. For example, in fluorescent dye applications, this equates to higher frequencies of light emitted after excitation of the dot as the crystal size grows smaller, resulting in a color shift from red to blue in the light emitted. The main advantages in using quantum dots is that because of the high level of control possible over the size of the crystals produced, it is possible to have very precise control over the conductive properties of the material.
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