MatSE has thirty-one tenure-line academic faculty members involved in all aspects of materials research. Our faculty frequently collaborate with investigators in other departments, other Penn State colleges, and other institutions as they seek scientific advances in research that will change the world.
Characterization may involve testing the physical properties of a material, or analysis of the materials' interior structure. Often advanced microscopy or elemental analysis are used to magnify or visualize internal structure and gain an understanding of the distribution and interaction of elements within the specimen.
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The study of biomaterials draws upon many scientific disciplines including but not limited to chemistry, biology, physics, and medicine to integrate the physical properties of materials with living structures. Research in biomaterials has led to advanced joint replacements, improved heart valves, dental implants, artificial tissues, dynamic prosthetics, diagnostic tools, and drug delivery devices to name just a few examples.
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Ceramics have been used by humans for more than 30,000 years with new discoveries and uses found every day. This broad and dynamic material can be classified as traditional: clay products, silicate glass, and cement, or as advanced referring to ceramics consisting of carbides (SiC), pure oxides (Al2O3), nitrides (Si3N4), non-silicate glasses and many others. Ceramics may also be used in association with metals or polymers to create compounds and composite materials.
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Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which substances react with each other. Understanding materials at the chemical level is essential to developing new and improved materials applications and to test the quality of engineered uses.
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The term "composites" in reference to materials science refers to engineered materials where two or more primary materials are in some way combined to make use of properties of each. These advanced materials are often developed to make materials that are lighter, stronger, more or less flexible, more or less dense than the individual components taken on their own.
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Imagine inventing the materials of tomorrow at the atomic level, or testing and analyzing the properties of materials that don't yet exist. Computational materials science is one of the most rapidly developing and exciting fields in materials science, made possible by the revolutionary advances that have been made in computer processing speed and memory capacity. This emerging field has far reaching implications and the potential to revolutionize virtually every aspect of materials science and engineering.
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Many of the technological advances, renewable energy sources, and other "green" technologies we look forward to will hinge upon on advances in battery technology. The study of electrochemistry in the framework of materials science is essential to the innovations required to produce powerful fuel cell, battery, and power generation capabilities.
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Materials research is revolutionizing nearly every aspect of the energy sector. Composites and super alloys are leading to lighter, stronger wind turbines and improved vehicle fuel efficiency. Ceramic and glass research is producing efficient and dynamic "smart" building materials. Nanomaterials are being explored for their application in advanced solar technologies. Electrochemistry research is advancing battery technology and fuel cell development - critical components of a renewable energy future; while advanced polymeric materials are being employed for oil extraction and oil spill recovery.
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Ferroelectric materials possess a spontaneous electric polarization that can be reoriented between crystallographically – defined states by the application of an external electric field. There are some 250+ materials that possess ferroelectric properties. All ferroelectric materials are pyroelectric, which means they are also inherently piezoelectric as well. Thus, it is possible to change the magnitude or the direction of the spontaneous polarization as a function of temperature, pressure, or applied electric fields.
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Glass as a material of study has a long and rich history. Today at Penn State, glass substrates for electronics, optics, and biotechnology; glass fibers for insulation and reinforcement; glass for nuclear waste immobilization; and glass for energy storage are of primary interest. The characterization of their surfaces is a primary focus, along with processing dependent properties such as chemical durability, strength, and adhesion.
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Metals research and metallurgy are at the heart of the discipline of materials science and engineering. Today's metal research includes exploration of "super alloys" that operate at extreme temperatures, are lightweight, or offer superior strength characteristics. Another area of study involves amorphous "metallic glass" and its various applications. Other areas of research include biomedical applications, electrochemistry research, and computational study.
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Nanomaterials are an exciting new field of materials, often orders of magnitude smaller than a human hair.
Nano and micro electromechanical machines are manufactured in the billions annually for sensing, ink jet printing, automotive applications, communications, and medicine. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) range in size from a particle of dust to about the size of a grain of rice.
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The study of optical materials has expanded greatly in recent years. Today, when we speak of optical materials we almost invariably are referring to optoelectronic uses. Research in optoelectronics at Penn State ranges across the sciences, from medical diagnostics to information technology to power generation and molecular electronics. Topics under investigation include: the optoelectronic phenomena of single crystals and molecules; the reflective, refractive, absorptive and emissive behavior of the surfaces and interfaces of both inorganic and organic molecular systems; and the quantum and spintronic behavior of atoms and electrons.
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The overlap between physics and materials science has led to the offshoot field of materials physics, which is concerned with the physical properties of materials. New physics emerge because of the diverse new material properties that need to be explained. Researchers concerned with materials physics are critical to bridging the gap between developing new materials and their practical applications. Exploration of material physics may also involve some component of analysis and characterization or computational study.
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Piezoelectric materials are certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) that convert mechanical pressure to electrical energy (and vice versa). Such materials are used in a wide range of devices including inkjet printers, speakers, watches and timing devices, actuators, sensors, and ultrasound imaging systems.
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Along with metals and ceramics, the study of polymers has risen to become a cornerstone of materials science and engineering in recent years. Polymers have the potential to solve many of the world's most complex problems. Water purification, energy research, oil extraction and recovery, advanced coatings, myriad biomedical applications, building materials, and electrical applications - virtually no area of modern life would be possible without polymeric materials.
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Materials scientists will play a critical role in how we utilize our finite resources to their fullest potential. Sustainability in the context of materials may refer to smarter battery technology that requires fewer materials, technology that allows the production of energy from waste material, organic LED's in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound, or the devlopment of new sustainable materials and processes.
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Materials processing and synthesis refers to the fabrication or artifical production of materials and may involve processes such as solution-phase chemistry of nanocrystal/nanowire materials, synthesis of polymer materials by a range of controlled polymerization techniques; inorganic synthesis by chemical vapor deposition, physical vapor deposition, and atomic layer deposition and others. Materials synthesis often involves a diverse array of disciplines including chemistry, analysis and characterization, and computational analysis.
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