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2014 MRS Fall Meeting


FF1.01 - Materials Science for the Anthropocene


Dec 1, 2014 8:00am ‐ Dec 1, 2014 8:30am

Description

Civilization on our planet took a sharp turn about 250 years ago, at the beginning of the industrial revolution, and has accelerated on that highway ever since. Arguably, its impact on humankind is equivalent to that of the invention of fire. The enormous consequences of industrial activity, positive and negative, could not have been anticipated then, but the bottom line today is that
per capita global consumption of energy is higher than ever, and demand for materials (relative to the year 1900) has increased by factors of 3 to 6000, depending on the element. Total population as well as those segments of the population doing the consuming, is also increasing. Now we speak (informally, thus far) of the Anthropocene, the first geological epoch in which human activity is deemed to have had an effect on the Earth’s ecosystem. For how much longer can economic growth and demand for goods be sustained, and can the same human ingenuity that started the industrial revolution mitigate its effects?
In this talk I will address the meaning and definition of sustainable development, and explore the space at its intersection with materials science. Every human endeavor should be informed by sustainable development, because none of our material resources are in?nite and only a few sources of energy are sustainable. The most common definition of sustainable development comes from the 1987 Brundtland report, “Our Common Future”, and states that “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, this is not a scientific definition, and essentially refers to economic development. Further, it requires that we know, or at least accurately estimate, what the needs of future generations will be. The immediate and direct connections between sustainable development and materials science include ef?cient use of materials, materials life cycle assessment, replacement materials, energy-related materials, and water puri?cation. I will highlight what MRS as a scientific society has been doing in the field of sustainable development, and suggest what future materials scientists should know about this field. From MRS’s activities in sustainable development thus far, we have learned that there is nothing we do as humans to ensure our survival (food, water, materials, shelter, economy, health) that lies outside of its boundaries.

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