Molten glass being poured

Materials Through the Ages

Kenneth Kelton, Professor of Physics, Washington University in St. Louis

The development of materials has always gone hand-in-hand with advances in civilization.  Metals and glasses have been the dominant materials over the ages; only within the relatively recent past have plastics and semiconductors taken on significant roles.  Over a period of thousands of years, by a process of trial and error, humankind learned how to produce superior materials by different types of processing.  In the 20th century it became possible to begin to explain the underlying scientific reasons.  Set against this historical background some of the techniques used to tailor metals and glasses for specific applications are discussed.  Recently it has become apparent that the structure of the liquid can play a significant role in preparing these materials; this is the focus of my research.  At the end, I will touch briefly on the modern instrumentation that makes these studies possible and also some of the advanced techniques being explored for producing materials of the future.