Soft Materials and the Future

Materials have always been a major driver in technological change and the growth areas of materials also change. New alloys made jet aircraft and gas turbine engines possible, semiconductors made electronics possible and new polymers built the plastics and synthetic fibers industries. These businesses are still all important and still employ many materials engineers but the action is always at the fuzzy edge where new materials are leading to new products.

As well as soft electronics, soft cars and soft robots there are many soft materials that are developing quickly but are un-noticed. Food, cosmetics, paints and medicines are going to get a lot more attention from engineers in the future.

Our department is Materials and Textiles because it covers this whole range of soft, flexible and composite materials. Traditional apparel is still on the menu because it can teach us so much but we and the textile industry are changing and new technology is the theme.

Finally, this is not just a question of white coats in labs. Technology works when people use it for new designs and new products which people want. We not only want people to make new technology, we also need people who understand it and can make it useful. For every scientist inventing materials there must be engineers to design with materials and a business community to make it happen.