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Roberto Fieschi and Marco Bianucci

Physics Department, University of Parma, Via G. Usberti 7, A43100 Parma, Italy;
Institute for Marine Science (ISMAR-CNR), Forte Santa Teresa, Pozzuolo di Lerici, 19032
Lerici, Italy;


The raison dtre for inserting a simple, complementary course on the history of materials and
its role in the history and development of human civilization at the beginning of the material
science curriculum is presented and explained. An outline of how this could be done is shown,
with examples from Prehistory, the Age of metals, and later historical Ages. Suggestions are
made in each section as to how the narration can offer the teacher hints on the connections with
contemporary developments and interpretations. For some types of materials a schematic list of
the main stages of development in the subsequent times is also given.

INTRODUCTION good course in MS. In order to both avoid

this risk and capture the interest of our
We assume that a typical curriculum students from the very beginning, it is
includes Physics (classical, quantum, advisable to develop a complementary line
statistical physics), Chemistry (inorganic, into a good and suitable traditional
organic, electro-chemistry), Mathematics, curriculum. This can be achieved by
Computational tools, etc. The young introducing a simple and appealing course
undergraduate is thus submitted to the need on the history of materials and their role in
of acquiring an amount of basic knowledge the development of human civilization.
before tackling the actual problems of
Material Sciences (MS). As a consequence, Materials have played a key role in the
he/she does not have the possibility of evolution of mankind. In fact, prehistoric
appreciating the real nature of MS and its and early historic Ages were identified by
role in the development of the past and Thomsen in 1836 according to the materials
future of our society. This hard, or used in workmanship: Stone, Bronze and
technological, approach of the traditional Iron Ages. In the following, we shall outline
curriculum could divert the less determined how this soft approach could be introduced.
student from the original purpose of taking a Along with the description of the uses of
materials, an overview of their main BACKGROUND
physical properties and of the role they still
play in our society is proposed. Suggestions The history of the discovery and the
to teachers on how to connect the historical invention of materials are widely treated in
context with the actual scientific the current literature. However, it is not
explanations or the recent developments is generally included in specific curricula of
written in italics and included in a separate advanced studies on chemistry, physics or
note on the relevant page. MS. We think that this absence should be
rectified, so that young students shall be
The outcomes of this approach should be a exposed to appealing approach to the
stimulus to students to appreciate the subsequent traditional technological studies.
importance of materials and of MS and An obstacle to this unconventional approach
technology, and should foster the interest to could be that typical teachers of hard
acquire a more deep and sound knowledge sciences do not master the historical
of the subject. background of their subject. A guideline
should then be prepared or, even better; one
The topics covered in this article are by no should turn the historians of science and
means exhaustive. Different choices can be technology for help.
made, according to the main interests of the
entire curriculum: more emphasis on metals Prehistory: From about 3,000,000 to 6,000
and alloys, or semiconductors, or polymers years ago
and plastics, or composites, and so on.
During prehistory and for a considerable
As the credit hours, the choice depends on part of the history of mankind, well before
the equilibrium with the traditional the development of science as we know
disciplinary courses. It is evident that there today, solid materials were used mainly for
is no space for an exhaustive course on the their mechanical properties, whose practical
history of materials during the old and the interest is evident; few other properties have
present ages. Thus, the reference to recent been considered: thermal properties for the
developments has been condensed into a list warmth of fur and, often, only by chance,
of dates and events. magnetism, electricity, optical properties.

As to the delivery methods, the lesson could Only four natural materials had been
be enriched by showing many images, mastered, i.e., developed into tools, during
schemes, diagrams, and possibly, also the dawn of civilization: stone, wood, bone
animations and simulations. No labs are and leather-fur. Of the first and the third of
necessary; it is advisable to incorporate a these materials we have many
guided tour to local Museums of archaeological finds, due to their chemical
Archaeology and of Science and stability, while this is not true for the other
Technology. two, and the evidence is indirect or
To help students and teachers to follow this
approach, in the 90th years we made two For the mastering of stone, the obstacle to
exhaustive courses on MS on a CD ROM overcome was how to control the shape.
support with hundreds of multimedia This was a difficult and gradual process; it
contents and tools. We included an important took several hundred thousand years to go
section devoted to the history of the Science from about ten different tools made of
and Technology of MS, stressing the splintered stones during the Lower
connection with different disciplines, like Paleolithic (Chellean) to a hundred during
Art, customs and traditions. the Higher Paleolithic (Tixier, 1984), see
some examples in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Paleolithic stone tools (By Jos Manuel Benito lvarez).

Left: First simple chopped stone tools, Lower Paleolithic. Center: A lower Paleolithic bifacial, which
represented a significant technological progress. Right: Scraper for skins, Middle Paleolithic

The most ancient tools known to date have Wood accounts for many tools: the bow, the
been found in Africa and date back around 3 fist complex tool invented by man (30,000
million years. The craftsmen were not the years ago), the boats, and the wheel (IV
direct ancestors of Homo sapiens but millennium), whose importance cannot be
Australopithecus hominid. Much later stone under estimated.
was exploited for monuments, housing,
statues, urns, and mosaics. Wood is still A first explanation of the mechanical
nowadays one of the most widely used properties (harness of the stone) can be
materials: industrial consumption is about given, as being due to the strong chemical
1.6 billion m3. In buildings the drawbacks of bonds between the atoms of the
the limited resistance of stone architraves to macrocrystals composing the stone; the
transverse strain was overcome much later cleavage (obsidian) can be assigned to the
(Etruscans), thanks to the invention of the amorphous structure.
vault arch. The low thermal conductivity of furs allows
the introduction of Fouriers law.
With the invention of baked clay and during The colour of mosaics (see for example
the Age of Metals, new techniques for an Figure 2) allows the introduction to the
easier control of the shape became available. interaction with light of materials: this can
It should be noted that shape control, on a be dealt more extensively in the section on
more sophisticated level, is still an objective glass.
of contemporary technology: consider the
tolerance limits of modern machine tools,
the ultra-miniaturization of the electronic
circuits, the nanotechnologies.

At least 10,000 years ago, in particular

regions of the Earth, man learned to
cultivate plants and to tame and rear
animals. The small communities of hunters
turned gradually into communities of
farmers and breeders, and the first villages
were built. With the advent of Neolithic,
man, thanks to a new technique, invented a
Figure 2. Mosaic
new material, baked clay. Some early
examples date back to the IX millennium;
From the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (386-452 the analysis of the remains of a jar of 7000
A.C.) Ravenna, Italy (Photo credit years ago (North Iran, see for example Figure 3, right) shows that it was used to
contain wine. Pottery was obtained by Presumably the first baking was done in
heating a mixture of clay and water to a open furnaces. Later, two other types of
sufficiently high temperature. Since the furnaces were built, vertical and horizontal;
mixture can be easily molded by hand, the the first type is the ancestor of modern blast
problem of shape control is solved. Further furnaces. Higher temperatures were
developments in the manufactory of pottery achieved by the Chinese (VII-IV century
date back to the IV millennium, when the B.C.), who were able to make compact
potters wheel was invented; thanks to this ceramics known as porcelain, made of white
new fool, the artisan could work quickly and clay and kaolin. Important developments
make objects with regular shapes and took place mainly during the last decades of
thinner walls. the XX Century, because of the need for new
materials resistant to high temperatures
(refractoriness), to chemically hostile
environments (chemically inert) and to
strong mechanical stress. This is the reason
why compounds of nitrogen, carbon and
silicon have been studied extensively.

Besides their structural properties, today

ceramic materials have acquired interest for
their magnetic properties (ferrites), electrical
Figure 3. Pottery wheel (left) and a Neolithic Pot
from Susa, Iran (right, Louvre Museum).
properties (piezoelectric, superionics,
superconductors, etc.).
The potters wheel is the progenitor of the
modern lathe used in mechanical workshops
(see Figure 3, left). Here and in the
Metals are widespread on Earth, but few
following the interconnections between
metals can be found in their native state:
materials technology and science and other
gold, silver, copper, (platinum); these are the
techniques should be stressed.
first metals that man learned to use (V
millennium or earlier).
Fire played a key role. Men had known fire
for half a million years, as testified by Gold was used to make decorative articles
remains of ancient hearths. However, the and jewels. Later small bars of an alloy of
first time it was used for technical purposes gold and silver were made into coins and
was for the baking of clay; this process is were exchanged in trading. Traces of the
now known as sintering. importance of gold can be found in myths
and legends: Golden Apples in the garden of
Sintering changes the structure of the Hesperedis, the Golden Fleece won by
natural material, modifying the bonds Jason, King Midas condemned to turn into
among atoms and their arrangement in gold anything he touched, the Golden Calf
space, and producing a partial welding of (Exodus 32:1), etc.
the solid particles of the mixture; it is the
most ancient process for transformation of During the Middle Age generations of
matter. alchemists worked to obtain the
The role of fire and in general of furnaces to philosophers stone capable of turning
obtain high temperatures for new or better mercury, or lead, into gold. Gold, chemically
materials can be stressed; this shall be stable but rare, had no other
better illustrated with the later medieval
De re metallica by Georgius Agricola,
released in the year 1556, is a book
cataloguing the state of the art of mining,
refining, and smelting metals, that remained
the authoritative text on mining for 180
years after its publication. In Figure 5 is a
picture from this fundamental book.

Figure 4. Dana and the shower gold.

From a Boeotian red-figure bell-shaped crater
(450-425 A.C.). Louvre Museum.

practical use until recent times, when it

found applications in electronics. Like gold
and silver, native metallic copper can be
found in nature in small quantities. Small
objects made of native copper appear in
Neolithic settlements, VIII-VII Millennium.
The analysis of their microstructure shows
that the metal was subjected to cold working
for shaping and hardening. Most metals are
part of non-metallic compounds in rocks.
This is due to the fact that they are highly
reactive and combine chemically with non-
metallic elements like oxygen, carbon,
silicon to form oxides, carbonates, silicates,
Figure 5. Medieval mine (from De re
The Copper Age matallica by Gorgius Agricola, 1556)

The birth of the Copper Age is marked by

the discovery that the metal could be Much later the technical evolution of
obtained from its minerals. mineral extraction played a role in a quite
different field: in the 18th Century A.C. the
Cu is more commonly found in the form of need for a better technique for draining
oxides, carbonates, sulphates. Metallic water from the bottom of deep coal mines
copper can be obtained from minerals by lead Thomas Newcomen in 1712
reduction, namely by heating with charcoal; (Dartmuouth, 1664 Londra, 1729) to
the melted metal can be poured into develop a steam engine; however it had low
refractory containers (crucibles) of a given efficiency and low power (about 4 kW). The
shape: due to this discovery, tools made of goal of obtaining a more powerful and
Cu were more commonly used during the III efficient engine was achieved by James Watt
Millennium. Copper mines have been found in 1769, with the introduction of a separate
back to the V Millennium. steam condenser.
During the last two Centuries, Cu has containing iron as iron carbide (Fe 3C),
acquired a great importance in electrical pieces of Carbon and other impurities, in
applications; in fact Cu is a good conductor order to expel the impurities and reduce the
of electricity. Conductors of low resistivity content of carbon, the bloom was treated in
are advantageous because they cause minor forges by repeated heating and hammering
heat dissipation when electrical current the desired shape of iron objects was
passes through. In line with this, one can obtained by blacksmiths in their forge by hot
introduce the first elements on the electrical working and cold working the connection
properties of materials, such as Ohms law with the mythology, the Olympic god of
and the Joule effect. metallurgy, Hephaestus (see Figure 6), son
of Zeus and Hera, and the first metallurgist
The Bronze Age of the Bible, Tubal Cain, show the
importance attributed to iron.
A new metallurgy development almost
simultaneously with that of Cu; it was based
upon alloys of copper and small quantities of
other elements, arsenic and tin. These alloys
have mechanical properties superior to those
of pure copper, and have a lower melting
temperature. The alloy usually referred to as
bronze is made of copper and tin. Its name
has been coined to denote the first period of
human history: the Bronze Age. The spread
of bronze metallurgy gave new impulse to
trading; expeditions aimed at acquiring tin
could last several years. Today bronze
alloys, which also contain lead are employed
because of their low friction property;
special springs can be made by adding Figure 6. Hephaestuss Forge, Diego Velasquez,
silicon; resistance to corrosion by sea water 1630. Prado Museum.
can be achieved by adding manganese.

The Iron Age Cold working, also known as work

hardening is the strengthening of a metal or
In the few most ancient finds of iron (IV an alloy by plastic deformation. This
Millennium) the metal is of meteoric origin; strengthening occurs because of
however meteorites are quite rare. The dislocations movements and dislocations
actual Iron Age began towards the end of generation within the crystal structure,
the II Millennium, presumably thanks to the interact with one another, and serve as
Hittite blacksmiths. The Hittites were an pinning points or obstacles that significantly
Endo-European people who, towards the end impede their motion. Because dislocation
of the II Millennium, settled in the region of motion is hindered, plastic deformation
contemporary Turkey; they ruled for almost cannot occur at normal stresses. This leads
a millennium and the collapse of their to an increase in the yield strength and a
Empire resulted in the dispersing of their decrease in ductility of the material. Yield
skilful blacksmiths, hence the spread of iron strength is increased in a cold-worked
metallurgy. Iron was produced from material.
minerals, mainly hematite and magnetite, Simple pictures of perfect crystal lattices
heated in furnaces fuelled by charcoal, these and of lattices containing linear
furnaces, instead of giving molten metal, imperfections (dislocations) can be
yielded a spongy, solid matter (bloom),
proposed in order to explain the mechanical
properties of materials
Because of its higher mechanical resistance, iron melts above 1500C, an such high
iron, gradually, replaced in many uses stone temperature was achieved only much later,
and bronze. Iron tools like hoes, pick-axes, in medieval furnaces. An evidence of the
swords, sickles and plugs, that enabled a difficulty of the transition from previously
deeper tillage of the soil, spread known metals to iron can be found in the
progressively; as a consequence, farming Iliad (VII Century B.C.): there are about
expanded over larger areas and the three hundred references to copper and only
population grew. The transition however was about twenty to iron.
slow, because of the complexity of the iron Iron articles appear most frequently from the
metallurgy. While bronze objects can be VII Century onward; most of the
easily obtained via melting and pouring into archaeological finds are in bad condition,
crucibles of the desired shape, iron articles due to the fact that iron undergoes corrosion
require a different technique. In fact, pure (rust).

Corrosion is the gradual destruction of materials (usually metals) by chemical reaction with
their environment. The word commonly means oxidation of metals in reactions with an oxidant
such as oxygen. Rusting, the formation of iron oxides is a well-known example of
electrochemical corrosion. Many structural metals and alloys corrode merely from exposure to
moisture in air, but the process can be strongly affected by exposure to certain substances.
Corrosion can concentrate locally to form a pit or crack, or it can extend across a wide area
more or less uniformly corroding the surface. Because corrosion occurs on exposed surfaces
and is a diffusion-controlled process, methods to reduce the activity of the exposed surface, such
as passivation and chromate conversion, can increase a materials corrosion resistance.

Some metals are more intrinsically resistant to corrosion than others. The materials most
resistant to corrosion are those for which corrosion is thermodynamically unfavourable.
Moreover some metals have naturally slow reaction kinetics, even though their corrosion is
thermodynamically favourable. These include metals as zinc, magnesium, and cadmium.

There are various ways of protecting metals from corrosion. (Oxidation: plating, painting, and
the application of enamel are the most common anti-corrosion treatments.)

In 1998, the total annual direct cost of corrosion in the U.S. was ca. $276 billion (ca. 3.2% of
the US gross domestic product).

Considerable improvements in iron Swords with steel blades were already

metallurgy were made when new techniques manufactured at the beginning of the I
were discovered: steelmaking (or Millennium. Quenching, which produces a
cementation) and tempering. Towards the harder but more fragile steel, was discovered
middle of the II Millennium blacksmiths later. Large scale use of the Roman Empire;
realized that iron tools heated by red hot the Romans made further progress; the
charcoal were harder than wrought iron. gladium, a short and solid sword, was
Today we know that this is due to the small superior to the bronze sword of their
amount of carbon that penetrates the outer enemies.
layer of the iron and transforms it into steel.
Iron-Carbon alloys are not homogeneous, but their microstructure changes according to the
temperature to which they are heated and the rate of cooling. The mechanical properties depend
strongly upon their microstructure. The analysis of the tools by means of optical and scanning
electron microscope has provided information on the ancient metallurgical techniques.
THE REVIVAL OF IRON METALLURGY importance in the industrial revolution is well
known. During the second half of the 15th
Early Middle Ages Century the bankers made large investments
for the exploitation of ore deposits, in order to
Towards the year 1000, there was a cultural establish a large scale steel industry.
and economic revival in Europe. The
production of iron also increased, probably There was a breakthrough in iron metallurgy
also to satisfy the needs of larger armies, and, at the end of the 18th Century when coke,
later on, after the invention of gunpowder, for having low sulphur content, was used; also
the production of fire-arms. The growing need the invention of pudding, where melted cast
of cast iron and steel necessitated bigger iron is stirred using long iron bars in the
furnaces capable of reaching higher presence of hematite and iron oxide, and
temperatures (complete melting of the cast subjected to strong air flows came about.
iron). This, in turn, led to the construction of During this process decarburization takes
big bellows for blowing more air. Human place and the iron thus obtained is sufficiently
energy was not sufficient to move the pure and easily manageable. This step marks
bellows, hence the energy of the running the beginning of the second Iron Age; the
water through a waterwheel was exploited. amount of iron produced grew enormously.
The complete melting of cast iron was one of Iron was widely employed also in the
the greatest achievements of the Middle Ages, construction industry and in the great iron
as well illustrated by Vinnoccio Biringuccio works; the first great iron bridge, over the
in 1540. Figure 7 shows a picture from the river Severn, was built in 1781 and required
famous book of Vinnoccio Biringuccio. 400 tons of cast iron. Napoleonic wars and,
later, the development of railways, stimulated
the production of larger and larger quantities
of cast iron and steel.

Curious indirect consequences:

After 1800, goose quills are replaced by
steel pen-nibs;
Rail travels stimulated the development
of personal watches and their extensive

Main development during the XVIII

Figure 7. Bellows in the blacksmiths workshop. Century
(Vinnoccio Biringuccio, 1540).
1664-1665 Robert Boyle, one of the
The need of big quantities of wood to feed the founders of modern chemistry, and Robert
furnaces, in some regions of Europe, crated an Hooke, physics and inventor, open the way to
environmental crisis due to the extensive the structural analysis of steel.
deforestation. The subsequent need of coal
made it necessary to dig deeper mines; thus, 1733 Ren-Antoine Ferchault de Raumur
the water from the bottom of the mine had to publishes a first systematic treatise:
be drained; it lead, in the 18 th century, to the examining the fracture surfaces with
invention of the steam engine, whose microscope, finds that steel consists of small
grains and identifies the role of impurities in occur, and the influence of thermal processing
different types of iron-carbon alloys. on the size of grains and hardness.
1773 chemical analysis shows the role 1878 Thomas process, similar to the
played by carbon in cast iron and steel. Since Bessemer one, but more efficient in removing
the, the role of chemistry in steel industry the content of phosphorous. Its adoption in
becomes increasingly important. Germany gives a strong impetus to the heavy
1776 John Wilkinson replaces bellows with
steam engines to obtain higher air flows and 1879 Adolf Martens publishes his first work
to reach higher temperatures on the microstructure of iron and steel;
martensite, a metastable phase of steel. Is
1784 puddle iron.
named for him.
Main developments during the XIX
1878-1890 development of the electric
Century and later
1821 Bertiez achieves the chromium-steel 1887 R. A. Hatfield patents the steel with
alloy high content of manganese, an alloy non-
magnetic and resistant t to wear.
1822 Michael Faraday obtains chromium
and nickel alloys; they will be widely used 1888 Henri Louis Le Chtelier perfects the
towards the end of the century. coupling of platinum with a platinum-
rhodium alloys that gives rise to the
1825 first railways Stockton-Darlington; the
thermoelectric pyrometer and adapt an optic
Liverpool_ Manchester will be built 5 years
pyrometer for industrial use; that made high
temperatures measurements possible.
1855 patent of the Bassemer process: the
1889 Josiah Willard Gibbs announces his
first industrial process for the mass-
rule of phases that, later, will make it easier to
production of steel from molten pig iron; the
better identify the phases of the Fe-C alloys.
key principle is removal of impurities from
the iron by oxidation with air being blown 1904 Development of vanadium steel, that
through the molten iron; the oxidation also later shall be extensively employed by Ford in
raises the temperature of the iron mass and engines.
keeps it molten.
1934 the dislocation model is proposed in
1860 Achievement of the tungsten steel order to interpret the mechanical properties of
alloy, a hard alloy used for rapid cutting tools solids, in particular the plastic deformation
(R. F. Mushet)
1864 Martin-Siemens (or open earth)
process, in which the excess carbon and other
impurities are burnt out of pig iron (high
The most ancient uses of glass, other than for
carbon content, 3,5 4,5%) to produce steel;
the manufacturing of glass articles, were the
its main advantages were that it didnt expose
coating of other materials for decorative
the steel to excessive nitrogen, which would
purpose (glazing). Glazzed pearls were
cause the steel to become brittle.
already manufactured before the IV
1864-1866 Thanks to the introduction of the Millennium; it took one more Millennium for
metallographic (reflective) microscope, the the working technique to develop to the point
microstructure and the properties of steel are that hollow objects could be made.
investigated in greater detail (H. C. Sorby). Instructions on how prepare glass, carved on
clay tables, have been found in the great
1870 Dmitrij Konstantinovi ernov
library of Niniveh, the capital of the Assyrian
identifies the critical point, i.e. the
temperatures at which the phase changes
trough classical images of mirrors, vases,
Normal glass is obtained by heating a mixture mosaics, windows. This allows the
of silica sand (SiO2) and other substances, introduction of the properties of light:
such as calcium oxide, sodium oxide, and spectrum of the radiation
various carbonates, up the melting point. Pure (wavelength/frequency, absorption, reflection
silica has a higher melting point. Pure silica diffusion, refraction and the role of lattice
has a higher melting point than the mixture. impurities.
When the melt cools, it becomes gradually
more viscous, and then solidifies into a rigid
material. Thus, there is no characteristic Glass and Science
critical temperature for the liquid-solid Important innovations appeared when
transition. The resulting amorphous solid is advanced techniques for the polishing of the
transparent, provided that the original mixture surfaces of compact glass were developed.
contains no impurities. Colored glass is Grinding and polishing of transparent glass
obtained when small quantities of other lead to the production of lenses for spectacles;
substances are added. Beautiful vases made of later, 17th Century, lenses for microscopes and
colored glass have been found in Egyptian telescopes were also made. These
tombs of the XVIII dynasty (1580-1369 developments opened up unimaginable
B.C.), see for example Lilyquist. They were possibilities for the study of the sky and of the
obtained by shaping the glass around a core of microscopic world. These technical
chalk or sand that was removed after the developments, including also Newtons prism
baking process. for the refraction of light, played a key role in
the revolution science.
Glass is an amorphous solid: it has a non-
crystalline structure, i.e. its atoms are not Recently, thanks to the achievements in
orderly arranged in space. chemistry and physics and under the pressure
The difference between the liquid-solid of industry, many different types of special
transition and the glassy transition can also glass have been produced. Shatterproof glass
be shown. More generally, one could also was an achievement of the thirties; another
explain the phase transitions. important step (1959) was the technique to
obtain optimum quality flat surfaces: melted
The technique of glass blowing was an glass is allowed to solidify while floating on a
important step forward that made it possible bath of melted tin. The most impressive
to work large containers with thin walls and development was surely that of transparency.
different shapes. Apparently this technique It is of the greatest importance in optical
was discovered in Syria during the first fibers for telecommunications, used as
century B.C. During this same period glass waveguides to transmit light pulses across
started to be used for windows in roman large distances with a low level of attenuation
buildings. and at higher bandwidths data rates than
copper cables
The glass art did not make substantial
progresses for many centuries. It developed Guiding of light by internal reflection, the
mainly in Venice. Processing techniques were principle that makes fiber optics possible, was
considered State secrets and the authorities of first demonstrated in Paris in the early 1840s.
the Republic could order the death sentence The crucial attenuation limit of 20dB/km was
for the craftsman and their family if they went first achieved in 1870, by researchers working
abroad to export their know-how! for the American glass maker Corning Glass
Works, now Corning Incorporated.
The optical properties of materials, colour,
reflectivity, transparency can be illustrated Today, thousands of types of glass are
MAGNETIC MATERIALS The first scientific treatise, the De Magnete,
was published by William Gilbert (Colchester
The properties of magnets have always 1544 London 1603), the English personal
generated astonishment. Apparently Thales of physician of Queen Elizabeth. During 18
Miletus, the first philosopher and scientist of years of experiments he turned the confused
western civilization (6th Century B.C.), knowledge of his times into a set of verified
already knew of a natural magnet, now called data. Gilbert realized that the Earth is a huge
magnetite. Thales, as well as the successive magnet whose poles are located near the
philosophers, believed that magnets have a geographic poles; he is therefore considered
soul, and this idea stood for about two the father of geomagnetism. Gilbert had also
millennia. Other views, closer to the modern the task of demonstrating that the widespread
concepts of the magnetic field, explained the belief that the diamond could magnetize an
effect in terms of an invisible fluid emitted by iron needle was not true. His contemporary
the magnet. The Latin poet Titus Lucretius Giovanni Battista Porta wrote: It is common
Caro (1th Century B.C.) wrote: Sing me opinion among sailors that onion and garlic
now, oh Muse, the reason of such an are in contrast with magnets, and helmsmen
extraordinary effect. Explain me why the are forbidden to eat them to prevent upsetting
magnet strongly attracts and so passionately of the pole indicator. However, when I tried
embraces the rough iron. In the following all these things, I found them untrue.
poet describes the capacity of magnets to
attract small iron rings and form a chain Further development
(magnetic induction), and attempts an
atomistic explanation. Magnetic materials were more extensively
used due to the development of electricity,
During the entire Middle Age there was little after the invention, by Alessandro Volta
progress. Several qualitative explanations (Como 1745 Como 1827) of the pile. The
were proposed during the 12th and 13th availability of direct currents and of the
Centuries, Pierre de Mericourt, namely Petrus magnetic field generated by these currents
Peregrinus, in 1269 wrote the Epistula de (Hans Christian Oersted, 1819) made it easier
Magnete (in this treatise there is also a design to magnetize materials and lead to the
for a perpetual motion mechanism!). knowledge of the hysteresis loops. The new
needs of the electric industry required new
However, strange legends were circulating. In magnetic materials with properties different
the Arabian nights there is the description from those of the permanent magnets already
of a black mountain that caused the wrecking known; for instance, for the transformers,
of the ships that came too close, because the materials of high permeability, capable of
mountain attracted and pulled out the iron conveying the flux of the magnetic field, and
nails. The first descriptions of the use of of low coercivity, i.e. being easily
magnetic bars, i.e. the compass as a means to demagnetized. More recently other material
find the way during the navigation, date back have been developed, for magnetic recording,
to the 13th Century in Western countries; for microwave devices, computer memories,
Chinese knew it at least two centuries before. etc.
The Italian Repubbliche Marinare
employed the compass during that period. Basic steps in recent history of magnetic
This, and the invention of the vertical stern materials
rudder (made possible also by the progress of
iron metallurgy), put Europe on course for the Pierre Curie (Paris, 1859-1906) studied
great geographical conquests. ferromagnetism, paramagnetism, and
diamagnetism for his doctoral dissertation and
First systematic studies discovered the effect of temperature on
paramagnetism, which is now known as interaction, a characteristic concept of
Curies law. He also discovered that quantum mechanics.
ferromagnetic substances exhibited a critical
1932 Felix Bloch (Zurich, 1905-1983)
temperature transition (curie point.), above
proposes a model to describe the structure and
which the substance loses its ferromagnetic
properties of the boundaries of the magnetic
domains (Bloch walls).
1897 Charles-Eduard Guillaume (Nobel
1933 beginning of the studies on soft
Prize) discovers an alloy (invar) consisting of
64% of iron and 36% of nickel, that exhibits
nearly no thermal expansion; invar enables 1935- iron oxides deposited on wires for the
very accurate physical measurements to be magnetic recording.
performed. 1936 Fe-Al-Co-Ni (alnico) alloy for
1898 It is discovered that manganese, when permanent magnets.
mixed with Cu and Sn gives a ferromagnetic 1950 barium ferrite, the basic component of
alloy with properties similar to those of ceramic permanent magnets.
1898 Fe-Si alloy, largely employed in
1905 Paul Langevin (Paris, 1872 1946) TO THE PRODUCTION OF NEW
develops the atomic theory of paramagnetism. MATERIALS, AND TO THE STUDY OF
1907 Pierre-Ernest Weiss (Mulhouse, 1865 THEIR PROPERTIES
Lion, 1940) proposes a theory of
ferromagnetism based on the molecular 1912 X-ray diffraction enables the study of
field, and of the magnetic domains. the crystalline structures; later it will be used
also to determine the phases of the Fe-C
1911 Heike Kamerlingh Onnes
(Groningaen, 1853 Leyden, 1926) discovers
the superconductivity. 1945 The first neutron diffraction
experiments were carried out by Ernest O.
1912 It is discovered that manganese, when
Wollan; he was joined shortly thereafter by
mixed with Cu and Sn, gives a ferromagnetic
Clifford Shull, and together they established
alloy with properties similar to those of
the basic principles of the technique, and
applied it successfully to many different
1912 It is discovered the high magnetization materials.
of the Fe-Co alloy.
1931- German physics Ernst Ruska and the
1916 Patented, with the name of Permalloy, electrical engineer Max Knoll constructed the
a Ni 78%, Fe 22% alloy by a very high prototype transmission electron microscope
magnetic susceptibility. (TEM). An electron microscope uses
accelerated electrons as a source of
1925 George Eugene Uhlenbeck (1900,
illumination. Because the wavelength of an
Batavia 1988, Boulder) and Samuel
electron can be up to 100,000 times shorter
Abraham Goudsmit (The Hague, 1902
than that of visible light photons, the electron
Reno, 1978) formulate the hypothesis that the
microscope has a higher resolving power than
electron has an intrinsic angular momentum
a light microscope.
(spin) and an associated magnetic momentum.
1937 Manfred von Ardenne pioneered the
1928 Werner Karl Heisenberg (Wrzburg,
scanning electron microscope (SEM). The
1901 Munich, 1976) explains
SEM produce images by probing the
ferromagnetism by means of the exchange
specimen with a focused electron beam that is
scanned across a rectangular area of the THE CONCEPTUAL BASIS OF
specimen; it produces images by detecting MATERIALS SCIENCE
secondary electrons which are emitted from
the surface due to excitation by the primary The materials development, as shown in the
electron beam. chapter, for millennia has been due to
empirical findings and to the skill of artisans.
1960 Molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) is a
Nowadays, as in the past few decades, there
method of depositing epitaxial thin films. It
was the transition from the empirical
was invented at Bell Telephone Laboratories
techniques to the real MS: the fundamental
by J. R. Arthur and Alfred Y. Cho and is
basis of the study of the properties and the
widely used in the manufacture of
development of materials lies in the
semiconductor devices. 1960 Metalorganic
developments of physics (quantum physics)
vapour phase (MOVPE), or metalorganic
and chemistry.
chemical vapour deposition (MOCVD), is a
chemical vapour deposition method used to
The understanding of the properties of
produce single or polycrystalline thin films; it
crystalline solids, starting from their structure
is a competing deposition technology to
on the atomic scale, is essential in MS. The
building blocks of this great construction,
solid state physics and inorganic chemistry,
1981 A scanning tunneling microscope have gradually become clear during the past
(STM) is an instrument for imaging surfaces two centuries. The bricks are the electrons
at the atomic level; it is based on the concept and the nuclei, while the bearing structures
of quantum tunneling. Its development earned are the laws of classical, statistical and
its inventors, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich quantum physics and of chemistry (Figure 8).
Rohrer (at IBM Zrich), the Nobel Prize in
The construction is not complete, new
phenomena provide further conceptual
Atomic force microscope (AFM) or scanning
challenges. It is not linear; in some fields the
force microscope (SFM) is a very high-
empirical developments are sometimes as
resolution on the order of fractions of a
effective as those based on scientific grounds
nanometer. The precursor to the AFM, the
(Figure 8). Often new materials are invented
scanning tunneling microscope, was
with properties, which had not been predicted.
development by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich
The richness of the entire scenario is
Rohrer in the early 1980s.

Figure 8. The building blocks of Materials Science (left). Empirical advances are often as effective as
those based on scientific ground (right).
DISCUSSION AND traditional disciplines and/or the difficulty of
RECOMMENDATIONS finding good teachers and texts.

The more recent developments, only sketched Strategies for winning over the faculty who
here, could be treated more extensively. The are not likely to be receptive to such a course
scheme presented obviously is not exhaustive, are not easy; each teacher is usually fond of
it is no simply an example, an outline on how their own traditional teaching experience, and
such an introductory course could be with good reasons. It could be stressed that
organized. For instance, no mention has been there is a need to capture the interest of
made to important classes of materials, such students by providing a soft approach to the
as organic polymers, fiber reinforced subject of MS and Technology, and an
composites, semiconductors and historical approach offers this opportunity.
superconductors. One could chose other
examples of materials, according to the Other teachers will show interest and
subjects that shall be treated more thoroughly willingness. In this latter case it is advisable
in future courses, and could stress the basic to pay serious attention to find or to prepare
physical and chemical concepts which are the good texts, suitable for the general planning
sound backgrounds of material science and of the whole curriculum.
technology. We recommend making a large
use of images, anecdotes and reference to A typical, traditional teacher is a person
parallel historical events, in order to make the specialized in their own field of research, and
course more interesting and stimulating. this provides the necessary background for
giving a good and up-to date course.
CONCLUSIONS However, an effort for widening the
specialized vision can be of advantage both
With respect to the non-traditional proposal of for students and for teachers. Moreover, as
this chapter, the teachers of MS and commented above and shown as examples in
Technology could have two opposing the boxes, the historical approach can be used
reactions, Some would not accept it, although by the teacher also to introduce in a
using reasonable arguments, such as the, need qualitative way some concepts and physical
of devoting all the time of the course to the laws that make a bridge between the empirical
developments and the modern MS.