In his recent MaterialsViews.com column (http://mvie.ws/t8hLq), Geoff Ozin wonders what happened to fun-damental research without the drive towards immediate application:
Nowadays, in the area of materials research, however, scientists have to pin applications on their materials which aren't ready for them. It's not enough to just study an interesting material – now you must put it into a solar cell (and probably not a very good one because it takes years to develop these things) or claim that it is good for “drug delivery” or a “sensor” or a “battery” or a “white light emitting diode”.
We've noticed this trend too in the last couple of years. Traditionally, Advanced Functional Materials papers have included lots of device data and applications because the longer full paper format allows room for going into additional detail about a materials system than a communication. However, it seems like engineering device performance increases is more and more becoming the focus. Similarly, many more papers promise immediate applications, when a closer look reveals that there would still be a lot of steps from lab to technology.
Is Prof. Ozin right? As a community, are we in danger of losing touch with the fun-damentals of materials science research?
One of the greatest strengths of materials science is its immense applicability. Without this, the explosion in materials science research–and in research funding–over the last decade would not have been possible. The importance of materials science research for creating new, innovative, and practical solutions to real-world problems should not be ignored.
But, in the long run, are we leaning too far towards devices and applications, incremental improvements, and device engineering in favor of fundamental research? And how will that affect the development of materials science in the next decade, as we try to develop smarter, more efficient, more functional materials?
This isn't to say that we should forgo devices, applications, and the real-world applicability that makes materials science so interesting. But, maybe we can strive for more of a balance between development of new materials and systems and their understanding.
The ideal result would combine both: increased understanding of an interesting materials science problem that could lead to practical applications.
Therefore, in addition to being novel, important, and of broad interest, I'd like to propose an additional criterion for Advanced Functional Materials for authors, reviewers, and editors to consider:
Does the reported research advance our fun-damental understanding of the materials science involved?
Or, if you prefer, Why does this interesting material function the way it does?
A solar cell might not have the highest reported efficiency to date, but what if we learn something new about how the chemistry and physics interact within the cell? We might be years away from optical computing, but finding out more about the interactions between light and matter may be another step towards that goal.
I'd like to come back in a year and say that, in 2012, Advanced Functional Materials published more high-risk research and emphasized more funda-mental understanding of materials science. I'd be interested in hearing what you think. You can send me an email at email@example.com, or message me on Twitter (twitter.com/materialsdave) or Google+ (profiles.google.com/materialsdave).