Pathways of Discovery

Designing a New Material World

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Science  12 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5468, pp. 993-998
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5468.993

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In this month's essay, Gregory B. Olson of Northwestern University traces the routes of modern materials science and engineering, from the medieval alchemists' attempts to transmute base metals into gold to the modern materials engineer's use of complex processing to "transmute" the multilevel microstructure of materials to achieve the essential property of gold, namely, economic value. The emerging "systems approach," he contends, is leading researchers beyond an era of empirical discovery into a new "Age of Design," marked by the systematic invention of new, more capable materials.