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INSIDE CI: Material Developments

October 1, 2006
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The monthly editor's memo from Editor-in-Chief Susan Sutton.

My 11-year-old daughter is in the sixth grade this year, and she's none too happy about it. She's got lots more homework than she did in the fifth grade, and the material is much more dense as well. The other night, while studying for one of two tests she had the following day, she said to me, "I'm tired of working so much all the time. I just want to stay little so I can play." Yikes. She's got a lot to learn.

I couldn't really blame her, though; I feel the same way myself sometimes. But what's really exciting is when work feels like play, when hard effort and long hours lead to measurable benefits, positive results for the greater good. Many such examples are sure to be found in the Materials Research Society's (MRS) Entrepreneurship Challenge, in which students, materials scientists and engineers team up with business school students to develop concepts for materials-based startup companies.

The 26 teams that participated in last year's inaugural Challenge undertook projects ranging from "Nano Energy Systems" and "Doubly Efficient Material for Direct Thermal-to-Electric Power Generation" to "Porous Titanium Scaffold Made via Protein Forming Method" and "Microwave-Based Ultra-Fast Rapid Thermal Processing and Proximity Bonding." Team members hailed from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Sloan School of Management and the Wharton School, to name but a few.

According to MRS, "the Challenge is structured to be virtual. Materials scientists and business students from around the world are encouraged to partner and collaborate on their technology ideas/business plans via the phone or Internet. Business plans will be submitted to MRS headquarters, where they will then be forwarded to a judging panel of venture capitalists who are also geographically dispersed." The winning team will receive $3000, and the top three teams will be given $3000 in travel funding to present their entries at the 2007 MRS Spring Meeting in San Francisco, April 9-13.

All teams for this year's Challenge must be registered by December 15, 2006. Additional details, including a Form Your Team page that helps participants identify potential teammates, are available at http://www.mrs.org .

We're focusing on material advances in this issue of CI, and one example is the incredible work being done in ceramic armor development (see "Improving Ceramic Armor Performance with Better Materials"). Research has shown that reducing impurities in the base materials used for boron carbide production can lead to the resultant armor's ability to better withstand ballistic threats. Engineers are also developing new composite materials that can be used to create harder, tougher armor. The challenges involved in these projects must seem insurmountable at times, but saving the lives of soldiers and others in life-threatening situations is certainly more than worth the effort.

I felt obligated that night to tell my daughter that responsibilities increase as we get older, but that, a lot of the time, we can find worthwhile work that we actually enjoy doing. She wasn't buying it, but I do hope she understands when she's older.

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