DMSE Tenure Talk

When Does a Chemical Become a Material? (And When Does a Chemist Become a Materials Scientist?)

Robert J. Macfarlane

Paul M. Cook Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering


October 26, 2022 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm 6-120

Robert J. Macfarlane

Both chemistry and materials science are broad, expansive research fields covering a diverse set of topics. There is often significant overlap between their areas of investigation, their fundamental guiding principles and concepts, their overarching goals, and their basic vocabulary and terminology. Nevertheless, these two fields are clearly distinct in the way they use these shared concepts and words, and even the most basic of terms can have radically different meanings or usages depending on the type of chemical or material being discussed. These fundamental differences obviously pose challenges for research that straddles the line between the two disciplines, but those challenges also offer new opportunities for scientific exploration that embraces the difficulty in reconciling different modes of thought. 

In this talk, I will describe my own transition from a traditional "chemist" to a "materials scientist", highlighting some of the most important lessons I have learned in making this leap. The talk will share the Macfarlane lab's innovations in the areas of materials synthesis, self-assembly, polymer composite development, and materials processing, and use these as a framework for highlighting how chemists and materials scientists sometimes have more in common than they might think (and how they sometimes actually have less in common than they might assume). The past, present, and future of soft matter and chemical synthesis in materials development will also be discussed, outlining why these topics that are shared between chemistry and materials science often feel removed or distinct from other aspects of materials research, and how we can better communicate and collaborate on challenges that are impactful to both fields. 

Reception to follow talk in 6-104, Chipman Room.