Materials science has been at the root of material progress, and indeed all progress, for so long that we may be tempted to think that its greatest contributions are behind us. The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age: They were all defined by dramatic improvements in how we manufactured and manipulated everyday objects, from knapped flint for sharper ax heads to alloyed aluminum for lighter airplane wings. But now, in the Silicon Age, isn't progress just about manipulating ones and zeros?
The answer is a resounding no. Materials matter more today than ever, which is why Popular Science dedicated much of this issue to them. In labs across the globe, scientists are hard at work creating the foundations of tomorrow's products: ultrasmooth coatings that repel everything from ice (on those lightweight airplane wings) to Staphylococcus aureus (in germ-ridden hospitals); self-regulating materials that alter their properties with temperature or pH; and piezoelectric films that capture wasted energy, even as other smart materials put that energy to more efficient use. As engineers prove out these materials in test labs and incorporate them into designs that leverage the new capabilities, everything stands to improve, from space suits ready for interplanetary exploration to nuclear reactors.
In fact, Moore's Law, the central tenet of the Silicon Age, describes a principle not of data science but of materials science—every 18 months, we're going to find a way to cram twice as many components onto a finite chip. So better materials are making better computers, which in turn are helping us design still even better materials. After a couple of million years of progress in materials science, we're still only just getting started.
There are many dreams of the future that can be fulfilled now, that are being skipped here. One is nanotubes and spider silk in plastic wraps. That super strong nanotube or spider silk plastics wraps could be used in place of glass in the upper floors of sky scrapers. They could also be used in space colonies making large farming enclosures, and livable habitats on Mars and the Moon.
That spider silk, produced by silk worms, could be used to colonies planets in other solar systems sooner than colonizing Mars. This is because a silk worm eggs are less than 2 grams small enough to survive freezing, and light enough to be propelled by Saturn’s magnetic field to near the speed of light to any habitable planet. Believe it or not if we can influence the direction a mouse moves, we can control the shape a silk worm builds its cocoon. And with resin and heat applied parts can be made in another solar system. Parts that can be used to build satellites, 3d printers, robots, and enclosures that make colonization possible. If we can freeze a small enough mammal and have its womb survive to produce larger size mammals we can send humans to any habitable planets found in our galaxy.
Other opportunities over looked are Brain computer interfaces, solar energy, and flying cars for every one that approach 300 miles per hour and fly during snow storms.