The advent of new materials processing and fabrication techniques has made it possible to control atomic-scale structure to an extent only dreamed of as recently as 20 years ago. This improved structure control takes us one step closer to synthesizing materials with a combination of properties tailored to the intended application. It is this ability to control structure that will accelerate the pace of technological advancement which is limited by the rate of materials development.
Mechanical performance of materials restricts their use, even for nonstructural applications. Magnetic composites used in recording heads are an example. The mechanical and tribological properties of these materials are a major consideration when designing reliable components.
Another example is electronic materials, where the strength of the interface between the polymer packaging and the semiconductor controls the lifetime of the semiconductor device. The semiconductor device undergoes thermal cycling as it is used, straining the polymer/semiconductor interface. Environmental impurities such as moisture can enter through cracks in the interface and degrade the semiconductor, causing device failure.