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Author Topic: Why are new materials difficult to produce?  (Read 1333 times)

Offline colarris

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Why are new materials difficult to produce?
« on: 20/11/2015 13:02:57 »
If we know the periodic table why does it take so long to produce new materials etc?
« Last Edit: 21/11/2015 15:03:15 by chris »


 

Offline puppypower

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Re: Creating new materials
« Reply #1 on: 20/11/2015 13:25:20 »
Making new materials takes resources. Resources are more likely to be spent, if that new material has economic potential. The free market decides what is needed and how much this has to cost to turn a profit. The result is only narrow areas of possible material research will get resources. Industry and the Department of Defense have the bucks for new stuff.

If I could make a new foamy material that stinks like old leaves, this may be unique and novel, but who wants it, therefore nobody will fund it. It will be hard to sell at all levels. If I have the technique to make a new semi-conductor for computers, this has potential for economic return and therefore resources will be made available.

If you were a billionaire and could fund yourself, you could make all kinds of odd duck material, which may lead to new avenues never considered before. Then you would have to use supply side economics to tell people why they need this. If this works, then copy cats from industry will be able to get funding, to open up this avenue for them.
 

Offline colarris

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Re: Creating new materials
« Reply #2 on: 20/11/2015 14:53:49 »
Thanks for the reply.
 

Offline chiralSPO

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Re: Creating new materials
« Reply #3 on: 20/11/2015 15:03:10 »
Understanding the periodic table is only the beginning. You question is analogous to, "if we know the alphabet, why does it take so long to write a new book?"

There are so many different ways to arrange the same atoms into new compounds (for instance see the discussion here: http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=59736.0). Then there is the issue of actually being able to make the new material. I just finished synthesizing a new compound that takes about 30 seconds to draw, but took me almost a year (11 months!) to actually figure out how to make it in the lab (and having figured out how to make it, it still takes about 4 weeks to synthesize it from commercially available raw materials, if everything goes right). Another compound I worked on took over 2 years to make, and I know people who spent their entire PhD (5 or 6 years) making a single target compound.
 
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Offline puppypower

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Re: Creating new materials
« Reply #4 on: 21/11/2015 12:59:53 »
Another thing to consider is thousands of compounds have been found, made and investigated. If you go to a handbook of chemistry and physics, like CRC, PhD students and researcher all over the world, have characterized tons of compounds over the years. Most are interesting but only a few have high economic value.

For example in phase diagrams of metals, two or more atoms are melted and bended in various proportions. Each point on the diagram will then be cooled to see what happens. In the case of iron and carbon atoms we can make carbon steel. But only certain proportion of carbon and iron will lead to useful states, that will be used by industry.  More complex steels may add chromium and nickel for stain resistance and high temperature applications.

 

Offline chiralSPO

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Re: Why are new materials difficult to produce?
« Reply #5 on: 21/11/2015 15:11:13 »
Another thing to consider is thousands of compounds have been found, made and investigated. If you go to a handbook of chemistry and physics, like CRC, PhD students and researcher all over the world, have characterized tons of compounds over the years.

There are over a thousand new compounds reported every day! And more than 100 million known compounds now. Here is an article from a few years ago that talks about the sheer volume of chemical discoveries:

http://www.wired.com/2009/09/humans-have-made-found-or-used-over-50-million-unique-chemicals/
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Why are new materials difficult to produce?
« Reply #6 on: 21/11/2015 18:14:19 »
As has been said many times, rocket science is trivial - rocket engineering is the problem.

Making new materials is easy. Mix up any combination of ingredients and treat them in any way you like: you may end up with a new molecule, a new composite, or a new alloy. The problem is to make new materials that are cheaper or better suited to a particular application. Getting iron out of its ore is fairly straightforward but the production of damascus, wrought iron, stainless steel, mumetal, gunmetal, brake discs, transformer cores, tin cans.....took thousands of years to perfect.

I've just been involved with a magnesium-thorium alloy that turns out to have remarkable stiffness-to-weight properties but is annoyingly radioactive and difficut to produce consistently. It's such an unlikely combination that I doubt whether anyone set out to make it speculatively: it was a deliberate synthesis based on sound crystallography matched to a very specific demand and a significant R&D budget. 

At the beginning of the Iron Age, Ug said to Og "The reason new materials are difficult to make is because all the easy ones have already been made. Look at this grey stuff I just made. It's not nearly as pretty as bronze, far too heavy, far too hard to be worked into jewellery, and goes rusty in the rain. It will never catch on."
« Last Edit: 21/11/2015 18:18:27 by alancalverd »
 

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Re: Why are new materials difficult to produce?
« Reply #6 on: 21/11/2015 18:14:19 »

 

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