Keeping Up with Materials Science Research and Trends Impacting Education and the Workforce

In late 2021, Mel Cossette, Executive Director and Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education-funded Online Instructional Resources for Material Science Technology Education (home of MatEdU News) spoke about Industry 4.0 and what it means for the manufacturing workforce. 

Yellow off road traffic sign with industry 4.0 ahead text on blue sky. Horizontal composition with copy space.

Learn more about her presentation: Manufacturing Jobs Are Big Part Of The Future Of Work

The three biggest trends to watch, according to many of these reports and links, include:

  1. Using artificial intelligence (AI) to create new materials, known as “Generative AI” an engineer enters project parameters and the software creates multiple versions. It is like putting 1,000 (or more) materials scientist brains against a question or idea and speeding up the process of discovery. 
  2. Materials advances in biological areas from pharmaceutical (3D printing personalized medicines) to implants to research (that will undoubtedly lead to more new areas where materials will guide healthcare). 
  3. Sustainability in Materials Science is the last major trend we spotted in this exploration. Although there are many other big changes coming to the world of materials, finding a way to combine Industry 4.0 concepts with the Circular Economy (aka sustainability) is crucial to smart science.

Industry 4.0, as a quick refresher, is shorthand for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and sometimes abbreviated as 4IR. It has given and is currently providing innovation on an unprecedented scale, including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing (additive manufacturing), biotechnology, and nanotechnology (post on a Micro Nano partner site highlighting growing in materials scientist jobs), to name but a few. Research and trends around Industry 4.0 frequently include how materials science is influencing this larger trend.

Starting with the first trend and speaking to Mel Cossette’s insights about how manufacturing jobs are building our future, Generative AI for New Materials advances, is the focus of this Redshift by Autodesk piece: AI in Manufacturing: How It’s Used and Why It’s Important for Future Factories.

One of the top resources for keeping up with current research and trends in materials science and connected industries and niches is the World Economic Forum. There is a free level account and it grants you access to the many ways that they curate and then organize data on a wide range of topics impacting the world’s economies. 

We did a search on materials science and here is a glimpse of the many posts that they pull into what they call “Transformation Maps.” This chart is interactive and allows you to see related concepts and topics and to click into those sections. It is robust and extremely helpful if you are trying to get a sense of the space. Hang on for a big list of resource and trend links below…

Screenshot of WEF Transformation Map on “Advanced Materials” with related categories.

The Top Tech Trends post by McKinsey shows materials advances will impact many industries: 

Graphene Research at Rice University

“Developments in materials science have the potential to transform multiple market sectors, including pharma, energy, transportation, health, semiconductors and manufacturing. Such materials include graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice configuration, which is around 200 times stronger than steel, despite its incredible thinness. It is also a very efficient conductor and promises to revolutionize semiconductor performance. Another is molybdenum disulfide – nanoparticles of which are already being used in flexible electronics.”

— McKinsey Top Tech Trends

McKinsey also highlights that a bio revolution is underway thanks to these materials advances: “Propelled by AI, automation and DNA sequencing, the bio revolution promises the development of gene-therapies, hyper-personalized medicines and genetics-based guidance on food and exercise.”

These changes also mean job opportunities, and that is why the National Science Foundation funds a wide and deep range of advanced technological education projects like MatEdU and the Micro Nano Technology Education Center (MNT-EC) (with its many partners including InnovATEBIO profiled here in 2021) to build the curriculum and training modules needed by students and industry. Biotech Careers offers a detailed look at that intersection where trends meet job opportunity. The MNT-EC Industry Partner page gives an idea of how NSF projects pull in companies looking to be part of the work to build educational programs that meet student interest and employer needs.

Materials advances through the methods mentioned above only give a glimpse into part of what makes rapid iterations work — researchers cannot iterate without testing and it happens in a big way through 3D Printing. ASME recently posted: Metamaterials Expand Possibilities in Biomedical Engineering and it confirms, at least in part, how metamaterials are fabricated quickly using additive manufacturing (aka 3D Printing).

The National Library of Medicine: National Center of Biotechnology Information has a large volume (of course) of materials-oriented nanobio medical and health articles. Here are a few:

For the mega-trend of sustainability, the World Economic Forum kicks things into gear: Upskill for Green Jobs of the Future. ASME explains how Ceramic Materials Advance Climate Change Efforts.

Greentown Labs is aiming to be the leading hub for startups (and the wonderful people building them) to work toward the shared goal of a sustainable, renewable future. Their relatively new Careers in Climatetech newsletter provides a glimpse into the materials science work happening, but also across clean tech / green tech science and engineering.

We will continue to add insights, trends, and research that can help you keep up with the world of materials science and education. If you know of some interesting research or have trend data, send it our way.

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