Bypass Chapter Navigation
Contents  
Foreword by Walter Cronkite  
Introduction - The National Science Foundation at 50: Where Discoveries Begin, by Rita Colwell  
Internet: Changing the Way we Communicate  
Advanced Materials: The Stuff Dreams are Made of
Education: Lessons about Learning  
Manufacturing: The Forms of Things Unknown  
Arabidopsis: Map-makers of the Plant Kingdom  
Decision Sciences: How the Game is Played  
Visualization: A Way to See the Unseen  
Environment: Taking the Long View  
Astronomy: Exploring the Expanding Universe  
Science on the Edge: Arctic and Antarctic Discoveries  
Disaster & Hazard Mitigation  
About the Photographs  
Acknowledgments  
About the NSF  
Chapter Index  
Advanced Materials: The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of
 

Triumphs in Everyday Life

NSF supported many of the pioneers whose investigative triumphs led to innovations that are now part of everyday life. One example is Art Heuer of Case Western Reserve University, whose research on transformation toughening in ceramics led to a way of producing Image of molecular models - click for details strong ceramics capable of operating and surviving in extremely demanding environments. As ceramics cool after firing, their tiny constituent particles expand slightly and cause occasional microcracks. To reduce the risk of cracking, the particles that make up the ceramics must be extremely small—on the order of one micron. Using zirconium dioxide-based ceramics, Heuer and others were able to prevent cracking by using appropriate processing to control the expansion of the particles during cooling. To the delight of the automotive industry, these tough ceramics, when integrated into catalytic converters, also increased gas mileage.

Many other founders of modern-day materials science have been longtime recipients of NSF support. Alan MacDiarmid of the University of Pennsylvania and Alan Heeger of the University of California at Santa Barbara are considered the fathers of conducting polymers, or synthetic metals. MacDiarmid, a chemist, and Heeger, a physicist, were the first to demonstrate that conjugated, or paired, polymers such as polyacetylene can be "doped," or intentionally changed to the metallic state. The process of doping involves introducing into a substance an additive or impurity that produces a specific and deliberate change in the substance itself. Their work stimulated research worldwide on metallic organic polymers; applications include rechargeable batteries, electromagnetic interference shielding, and corrosion inhibition. Heeger, MacDiarmid, and Japanese researcher Hideki Shirakawa were awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery and development of conductive polymers. Another longtime NSF grantee is Richard Stein, who established the highly respected Polymer Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Image of buckyball molecule - click for detailsand is known for developing unique methods for studying properties of plastic films, fibers, and rubbers.

One of NSF's best known principal investigators is Richard Smalley of Rice University, who in 1985 discovered a new form of carbon with astounding properties and potential for useful applications. The Buckminsterfullerene, named for the American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, is a hollow cluster of 60 carbon atoms that resembles one of Fuller's geodesic domes. It is the third known form of pure carbon, the first two being graphite and diamond, and is the most spherical and symmetrical large molecule known to exist. "Buckyballs," for which Smalley and his colleagues Harold W. Kroto and Robert F. Curl received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1996, are exceedingly rugged and very stable, capable of surviving the temperature extremes of outer space. Numerous applications have been proposed, including optical devices, chemical sensors and chemical separation Photo of Nobel laureates Robert Curl and Richard Smalley - click for detailsdevices, batteries, and other electrochemical applications such as hydrogen storage media. In addition, medical fields are testing water-soluble buckyballs, with very promising results. The soccer-ball-shaped form of carbon has been found to have the potential to shield nerve cells from many different types of damage including stroke, head trauma, Lou Gehrig's disease, and possibly Alzheimer's disease.

 
     
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Overview
From Craft to Science in Two Centuries
A Never-Ending Search for the New and Useful
Triumphs in Everyday Life
Designer Molecules Reach New Heights
The Healing Arts Embrace Materials Science
Materieals for a Small Planet
Tomorrow's Materials: Lighter, Tougher, Faster
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