50 Greatest Moments in Materials


The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) consists of 4 Member Societies. One of them, The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS) includes members who are materials scientists. TMS introduced the 50 Greatest Moments in Materials to recognize the impact of materials in history and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of TMS as a member society of the AIME. “A Great Materials Moment is defined as a pivotal or capstone event of human observation and/or intervention that led to a paradigm shift in humanity’s understanding of materials behavior, that introduced a new era of materials utilization, and/or that yielded significant materials-enabled socio-economic changes.” (JOM, February 2007, pg 14). Dozens of esteemed materials professionals were invited to give their views on great materials moments and the result was 650 suggestions that TMS distilled into a list of 100 official candidates. This list was opened to online voting and more than 900 individuals (materials students and professionals as well as the general public) completed the survey. The votes were converted into an ordered ranking by use of a weighting system: each first place vote that a moment received counted as ten points, each second place vote counted as nine points and so on with each tenth place vote counting as one point. Once the weights were assigned the points were totaled for each moment. The candidate with the greatest of points became the Greatest Materials Moment. Here are the moments from number 50 to number 1. You can find the distilled list of 100 official candidates listed in the Timeline on the Engineering and Technology History Wiki’s homepage Engineering and Technology History Wiki.

Further Reading

This entry is based on The Greatest Moments in Materials Science and Engineering, published in JOM, an official publication of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.

You can find more about JOM at JOM - The Member Journal of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.  

You can find more about the greatest moments in materials science and engineering at Material Moments.Org.

You Voted, We Counted: The 50 Greatest Moments in Materials, Part I: Nos. 50-11, by James J. Robinson

You Voted, We Counted: The 50 Greatest Moments in Materials, Part II: Nos. 1-10, by James J. Robinson

Rank Moment Date
50. A.A.Griffith publishes “The Phenomenon of Rupture and Flow in Solids,” which casts the problem of fracture in terms of energy balance. 1920
49. Adolf Martens examines the microstructure of a hard steel alloy and finds that, unlike many inferior steels that show little coherent patterning, this steel had many varieties of patterns, especially banded regions of differently oriented microcrystals. 1890
48. Richard Feynman presents “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at a meeting of the American Physical Society. 1959
47. Luigi Brugnatelli invents electroplating. 1805
46. Wallace Hume Carothers, Julian Hill, and other researchers patent the polymer nylon. 1935
45. Henry Clifton Sorby uses light microscopy to reveal the microstructure of steel. 1863
44. Paul Merica patents the addition of small amounts of aluminum to Ni-Cr alloy to create the first “superalloy.” 1926
43. Leo Baekeland synthesizes the thermosetting hard plastic Bakelite. 1909
42. Potters in China craft the first porcelain using kaolin. (estimated) 1500 BC
41. Kammerlingh Omnes discovers superconductivity while studying pure metals at very low temperatures. 1911
40. FriedrichWöhler isolates elemental aluminum. 1827
39. The earliest form of metallurgy begins with the decorative hammering of copper by Old World Neolithic peoples. (estimated) 8000 BC
38. Jack Kilby integrates capacitors, resistors, diodes, and transistors into a single germanium monolithic integrated circuit or “microchip.” 1958
37. Alfred Nobel patents dynamite. 1867
36. Sumio Iijima discovers nanotubes, carbon atoms arranged in tubular structures. 1991
35. Russell Ohl, George Southworth, Jack Scaff, and Henry Theuerer discover the existence of p- and n-type regions in silicon. 1939
34. Hermann Staudinger publishes work that states that polymers are long chains of short repeating molecular units linked by covalent bonds. 1920
33. Abraham Darby I discovers that coke can effectively replace charcoal in a blast furnace for iron smelting. 1709
32. Sir Humphry Davy develops the process of electrolysis to separate elemental metals from salts, including potassium, calcium, strontium, barium, and magnesium. 1807
31. Glass blowing is developed, probably somewhere in the region of modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel—most likely by Phoenicians. (estimated) 100 BC
30. Georgius Agricola publishes De Re Metallica. 1556
29. Metal workers in the Near East develop the art of lost-wax casting. (estimated) 1500 BC
28. Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska build the first transmission electron microscope. 1933
27. Leon Guillet develops the alloying compositions of the first stainless steels. 1904
26. Cambridge Instruments introduces a commercial scanning electron microscope. 1965
25. Charles Martin Hall and Paul Héroult independently and simultaneously discover the electrolytic reduction of alumina into aluminum. 1886
24. Chinese metal workers develop iron casting. (estimated) 200 BC
23. Egon Orowan, Michael Polyani, and G.I.Taylor, in three independent papers, propose that the plastic deformation of ductile materials could be explained in terms of the theory of dislocations. 1934
22. Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann find that they can split the nucleus of a uranium atom by bombarding it with neutrons. 1939
21. Augustin Cauchy presents his theory of stress and strain to the French Academy of Sciences. 1822
20. Niels Bohr publishes his model of atomic structure. 1913
19. Johannes Gutenberg devises a lead-tin-antimony alloy to cast in copper alloy molds to produce large and precise quantities of the type required by his printing press. 1450
18. Metal workers in the region of modern Syria and Turkey discover that addition of tin ore to copper ore before smelting produces bronze. (estimated) 3000BC
17. Werner Heisenberg develops matrix mechanics and Erwin Schrödinger invents wave mechanics and the non-relativistic Schrödinger equation for atoms. 1925
16. William Roberts-Austen develops the phase diagram for iron and carbon. 1898
15. Charles Goodyear invents the vulcanization of rubber. 1844
14. Pierre and Marie Curie discover radioactivity. 1896
13. Iron smiths forge and erect a seven meter high iron pillar in Delhi, India. (estimated) 400
12. The earliest fired ceramics—in the form of animal and human figurines, slabs, and balls—(found at sites in the Pavlov Hills of Moravia) are manufactured starting about this time. (estimated) 28,000 BC
11. J. Willard Gibbs publishes the first part of the two-part paper “On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances.” 1876
10. Henry Bessemer patents a bottom-blown acid process for melting low-carbon iron. 1856
9. Max von Laue discovers the diffraction of x-rays by crystals. 1912
8. In and around modern Turkey, people discover that liquid copper can be extracted from malachite and azurite and that the molten metal can be cast into different shapes. (estimated) 5000 BC
7. Metal workers in south India develop crucible steel making. (estimated) 300 BC
6. John Seaton invents modern concrete (hydraulic cement). 1755
5. Anton van Leeuwenhoek develops optical microscopy capable of magnifications of 200 times and greater. (estimated) 1668
4. The peoples of northwestern Iran invent glass. (estimated) 2200 BC
3. John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William Shockley invent the transistor. 1948
2. Egyptians smelt iron (perhaps as a by-product of copper refining) for the first time, using tiny amounts mostly for ornamental or ceremonial purposes. (estimated) 3500 BC
1. Dmitri Mendeleev devises the Periodic Table of Elements. 1864