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Materials Science: the Essential Evolution of Materials

Dr Rob Wallach

The dramatic progress in living standards over the last hundred years especially has been possible only by the evolution of new materials. This course provides an introduction to the wide breadth of Materials Science. It shows how the radically different responses of the wide range of materials we use in quite varied situations in everyday life enable us to exploit and benefit from their distinctive characteristics.

Topics include atomic structure and its relevance to all classes of materials, the basis of mechanical and physical properties, optimisation using anisotropy, and environmental degradation. Examples of materials evolution will be used to show how diverse materials are tailored to specific applications including transportation, power generation, communication and health care. Further understanding and development of materials are essential given the growing twenty-first century challenges of sustainability. Science and technology must provide some solutions and Materials Science has a pivotal role.

Throughout the course, participants will be encouraged to draw on and ask questions about their own experiences of materials. Computer software will be introduced to underpin some of the concepts and a full set of lecture notes is provided at the start of the course.

Intended Audience

This course is science and engineering based but is not necessarily limited to those majoring in science or engineering. It should be accessible to liberal arts students with a good background and interest in science, and who are motivated to understand the world around them. Hence the course is for any student wishing to discover why so many of the materials around us are designed to meet our needs and how they have evolved, as well as what the future might hold. Knowledge of and understanding materials behaviour will allow us to live more efficiently by optimising natural resources effectively and also by enabling innovation and change – both are essential to tackle sustainability.

Previous Knowledge

Pre-requisite knowledge is minimal but an awareness of scientific approaches plus high-school physics and chemistry are beneficial. An open mind is needed plus a willingness to engage with scientific and technological concepts related to the world we share.


Dr Rob Wallach

Rob Wallach is an Emeritus Senior Lecturer in the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy and former Vice-Provost of King’s College; his degrees are from Cambridge and also Queen’s University, Canada. His research has focused primarily on joining materials, both developing new approaches and addressing challenging applications (aircraft engine turbine blades, car bodies, electronic circuits). The aim is to tackle real problems and find solutions of a generic nature through modelling and experiments, thus optimising uses of new materials and their exploitation.

Rob also has been extensively involved in a wide range of University educational and welfare issues. Additionally, he runs outreach activities to broaden access for future students, and to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability and the role of materials science. He currently is the University’s Director of Postdoctoral Affairs, addressing the needs of the postdoctoral community (numbering ~4,000 across all disciplines) in the University.