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5/28/2008 3:11 PM
In 1974, a distinguished committee chaired by the late Professor Morris Cohen (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and William Baker (Bell Labs) carried out a survey of materials science and engineering (MSE) and provided an overview of the field known as the COSMAT report. They made specific recommendations for action for technical, governmental, industrial, university, and professional societies (see Reference 1). Quoting from three separate sections of the COSMAT report:
"Materials are exceptionally diverse. The scope of materials science and engineering spans metals, ceramics, semiconductors, dielectrics, glasses, polymers, and natural substances like wood, fibers, sand, and stone (p. 2)."
"The multidisciplinary nature of materials science and engineering is evident in the educational backgrounds of the half-million scientists and engineers who, in varying degree, are working in the field. Only about 50,000 of them hold materials-designated degrees; the rest are largely chemists, physicists, and non materials-designated engineers. Many of these professionals still identify with their original disciplines rather than with the materials community. They are served by some 35 national societies and often must belong to several to cover their professional and technical needs (p. 1)."
"In the light of these trends and challenges, scientific and engineering societies concerned with materials should vigorously pursue initiatives for the effective coordination of programming, journals, information services, and all such professional matters that will help the field contribute its full potential to human well-being, national purpose, and to science and engineering generally (p. xxix)."
That was back in 1974! Since 1974, the field has broadened immensely with the advent of electronic materials, self-assembled structures, nano-structured materials, nano-composites, biomaterials, integrated computational materials engineering, and the list goes on and on. Broadening of MSE is a good thing, and we should embrace it; however for professional societies that serve the MSE community, it is a challenge. Added to "traditional" societies like TMS have been newer societies such as the Materials Research Society (founded in 1973) and the Society for Biomaterials (founded in 1974) to address the expanding needs of the field. In addition, traditionally non-MSE oriented societies, such as the American Physical Society and American Society for Mechanical Engineers, have significant materials-oriented efforts. Almost 35 years later, I wonder whether the MSE community is less fragmented than back in 1974.
It is difficult to have an effective public advocacy plan and to be the voice of the community when we are fragmented. MSE's "government persona" is also diffuse. Recently, the Department of Energy announced Energy Frontier Research Centers (see reference 2) and in articulating the vision, I quote:
"In this new era of science, we would design, discover, and synthesize new materials and molecular assemblies through atomic scale control; probe and control photon, phonon, electron, and ion interactions with matter; perform multi-scale modeling that bridges the multiple length and time scales; and use the collective efforts of condensed matter and materials physicists, chemists, biologists, molecular engineers, and those skilled in applied mathematics and computer science."
What happened to the material scientists and engineers? When addressing materials for energy applications . . . did someone forget the material scientists and engineers? Two decades ago when I was a young and unseasoned administrator, I had to make the case for the needs of the materials engineering department to my provost who was a philosopher. After several failed meetings, I finally succeeded and got the needed resources. I had succeeded in conveying the importance of MSE by stating that "Materials is to engineering as mathematics is to the natural sciences." It was a simple message, but certainly effective.
With accolades to the leadership of several professional societies, major strides have been made and significant progress has been achieved in the last four to five years. The MS&T meetings, wherein four societies—the American Ceramic Society (ACerS), the Association for Iron and Steel Technology, ASM International, and TMS—join forces and co-locate their meetings with cross-cutting programs, is a major accomplishment. In addition, the Material Advantage program for our students has been a great success. Thanks to the Material Advantage program, the next generation of professionals has a unified experience while at the university. Their gestalt is that they belong to the "materials" community. Subsequent to graduation and as professionals in the field, they can decide which professional society (or societies) to join depending on their career path. Recently, TMS joined with ACerS and the Materials Research Society (MRS) in supporting the first Materials Societies Fellow as part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow program, another example of cross-society cooperation. We have made progress, but the question is: are we doing enough? Is the "cooperative action" of professional and technical societies being realized?
When trying to address the needs of a broadening field, there is always the danger of losing identity. I certainly do not profess to have the answers. I only raise the question whether we are doing enough for MSE professionals? Are there lost opportunities by not consolidating and coordinating efforts? Is there a proliferation of journals, conferences, meetings, workshops? Should we be thinking more broadly about how societies cooperate? A natural question is whether we should be thinking of a federation model. Are we truly a global society, or a U.S.-based society with international members? Ultimately the question that needs to be answered is: How do we enhance the value proposition for our existing members (and future members) as well as serve the needs of the MSE profession? The TMS Board of Directors will deliberate and discuss this important and critical topic at our July retreat in Warrendale, Pennsylvania.
It will be most appreciated if I could hear from you with your thoughts and viewpoints through the TMS President Blog and Podcast Zone (www.tms.org/president).
1. Materials and Man's Needs: Materials Science and Engineering: A Supplementary Report of the Committee on the Survey of Materials Science and Engineering, (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1975) www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10437#toc (accessed April 29, 2008).
2. Energy Frontier Research Centers, www.sc.doe.gov/bes/EFRC.html, (accessed April 29, 2008).
Diran Apelian is a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the 2008 TMS president.
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