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Materials Engineers


Physical metallurgy as a modern science dates back to 1890, when a group of metallurgists began the study of alloys. Enormous advances were made in the 20th century, including the development of stainless steel, the discovery of a strong but lightweight aluminum, and the increased use of magnesium and its alloys.

Not until the scientific and Industrial Revolutions of the 19th century did people begin to use ceramics in complex scientific and industrial processes. Individuals skilled with ceramic materials began to develop new, manmade materials to be used in high-technology applications. New uses were also developed for naturally occurring materials, which made possible the development of new products that were stronger, more transparent, or more magnetic. The earliest ceramic engineers used porcelains for high-voltage electrical insulation. Ceramic engineers benefited other industries as well, developing, for example, material for spark plugs (automotive and aerospace industries) and magnetic and semiconductor materials (electronics industry). Today, basic ceramic materials such as clay and sand are being used not only by artists and craftspeople, but also by engineers to create a variety of products, such as memory storage, optical communications, and electronics.

It was not until 1909 that the Belgian-American chemist Leo H. Baekeland produced the first synthetic plastic. This product replaced natural rubber in electrical insulation and was used for phone handsets and automobile distributor caps and rotors, and is still used today. Other plastics materials were developed steadily. Today, plastics manufacturing is a major industry whose products play a vital role in many other industries and activities around the world. It is difficult to find an area of our lives where plastic does not play some role.

Today, the fields of metallurgical, ceramics, and plastics engineering have become so closely linked that they are now often referred to as materials engineering to reflect their interdisciplinary nature.

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