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North American 2015 Materials Education Symposium

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Materials and Maps

Prof Mike Ashby | University of Cambridge

Materials and Maps

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UK Maps condense information; they distil; they capture essentials and reveal relationships. They collapse, onto a single sheet, data that would take pages to report as text or tables. Above all, they are visual; they reveal shape, connections and disconnects. What has this to do with materials? Start at the beginning: the Periodic Table of the elements is a map - you might think of it as having axes of atomic number and outer-electron configuration. When the known elements were first plotted in this way, the gaps revealed what we did not know: undiscovered elements, some attributes of which could even be predicted from the position of the gap even before they were discovered. You can map onto maps. Governments, concerned about security of material supply, identify certain elements as 'critical', meaning that security of supply is essential for reasons of economy or national security. Mapping these and bills of materials for products onto the Periodic Table reveals where dependencies exists; and mapping the countries of origin of the materials onto another map - that of the world - reveals vulnerability to supply constraints. Materials can be mapped in many other revealing ways. Materials have properties - mechanical, thermal, electrical, environmental. Think of these properties as the axes of a multi-dimensional material-property space. Pairs or combinations of these properties can be mapped; each map is a section through material-property space. Doing so reveals patterns and relationships. Material processing, such as thermal or mechanical treatments, changes the properties, shifting the position of the material in material-property space and reconfiguring the patterns. The maps reveal that, for any section, part of the material-property space is filled but part is empty. Certain parts of the space are inaccessible for fundamental reasons, but blocking these off still leaves holes that could, in principle, be filled. From this emerges the idea of vectors for material development, focusing attention on directions for material research that might prove most fruitful. The talk will illustrate these points with examples, opening the way for possible discussion.