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I am not a scientist. You will never find me taking apart a computer to find out what makes it tick, or trying to find a way to send the next satellite into orbit. But I do have great admiration for those with brilliant scientific minds, who continue to propel us into the next level of technology. Most of the time, I take these technological advances for granted—so we’re trying to communicate with Mars? Great. And humans are actually living in the space station for months at a time? That’s nice. But it’s no big deal—until I actually pause to consider how far we’ve come. Just 100 years ago, people were confined to their small space on earth and communicated with distant friends and relatives by handwritten letters that took weeks—if not months—to deliver. Today, we hop on airplanes at a moment’s notice to arrive on the other side of the world in a day’s time, and communicate almost instantaneously through telephones, fax machines, e-mail and the Internet.
What’s even more amazing is that ceramic technology is a driving force behind many of the continuing technological innovations. The desirable combinations of electrical, mechanical and physical properties often found in ceramics are increasing their use in the semiconductor industry as integrated circuit manufacturers strive to make their chips faster, smaller and less expensive (see “Ceramics in the Semiconductor Industry” on pages 18-21 in this issue). These advances, in turn, drive the electronics industry and facilitate the manufacture of smaller, lighter cell phones and computers.
Even in applications as diverse as automobiles, bicycles, armor and beverage cans, ceramics are playing an increasingly important role. Advances in metal matrix composites and ceramic matrix composites are leading to new military and commercial developments that capitalize on the light weight and effective thermal performance of ceramic materials (see “Advances in MMCs & CMCs” on pages 31-38 in this issue).
Ceramic industry suppliers and researchers are also doing their part to ensure that ceramics stay at the forefront of technology. For example, independent researchers have discovered that a new binder volume dilution procedure can be used to determine the critical pigment volume concentration of a ceramic slurry, thereby preventing surface defects in the cast layers of ceramic capacitors (see “Defect-Free Ceramic Capacitors” on pages 23-29 in this issue). And other researchers have found ways to manipulate the surfaces of nanosized particles to improve the abrasion-resistant ceramic coatings of the future (see “Nanomaterials and Wear Resistant Polymers,” pages 39-43 in this issue).
We’ve come a long way, baby. But the exciting thing is that we’ve only just begun to realize our potential. And as the great minds of the 21st century continue to develop amazing technological innovations, ceramics will be there, every step of the way.