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Editorial Essay: Technological advances in Europe and the USA which culminated, 50 years ago, in the commercialization of Nylon opened the way for the full scale development of synthetic materials. The Advanced Materials Conference held in Wilmington, Delaware, USA, in October 1988 as part of this 50th anniversary celebration, covered a wide spectrum of issues in materials science. John Collette and Joel Miller, organizers of the conference, introduce a series of reviews based on the lectures which took place.