The recent study by the National Research Council, entitled Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990s—Maintaining Competitiveness in the Age of Materials, has identified materials science and engineering as an intellectually exciting field crucial to the success of U.S. industries, economy, and defense. The study surveys the needs of eight industries (aerospace, automotive, biomaterials, chemical, electronics, energy, metals, and telecommunications), which employ more than seven million people and have sales in excess of $1.4 trillion. The survey shows the industries' critical requirements for new, improved, more economical materials and processes. Similar needs are documented in such public sector areas as defense, energy, transportation, space, and health. Despite the fact that their economic performance and technological leadership within the global market vary widely, these industries consistently identify materials science and engineering as vital to their ability to maintain or improve their international competitiveness. In every case, the survey indicates a clear need to produce and fabricate new and traditional materials with improved quality and economy. It is also evident that the United States currently leads in certain materials-related areas, but adequate resources, planning, and training are required to maintain this leadership role.
In terms of manpower and educational needs, the study emphasizes the need for more educated personnel to meet current and future opportunities, and recommends basing undergraduate courses and programs in materials science and engineering on the four basic elements of materials science and engineering—synthesis and processing, structure, properties, and performance — and on the relationships among them. The study further recommends that undergraduate materials education be centered in materials departments, and that these departments interact strongly with other science and engineering departments to develop interdisciplinary materials-related educational programs.