The use of microwave energy to process a wide variety of ceramic, polymeric and composite materials offers many new and exciting opportunities. Although microwave processing is well established in the food, rubber, and textile and wood products industries, it is a relatively new tool for processing inorganic and other organic materials, chemicals, and certain minerals. Much of its potential has yet to be exploited and carried through to industrial and commercial applications.
Microwave processing is fundamentally different from other heating sources such as conventional ovens and furnaces, lasers, plasmas, and electron beams, where heat is applied externally to the surface of the material, and where time is required for the heat to penetrate the cooler, interior regions via conduction or radiation.
Microwave irradiation penetrates and simultaneously heats the bulk of the material. This feature, along with other microwave characteristics, offers new and unique opportunities to process materials with greater flexibility, to improve quality and product properties, to create or synthesize entirely new types of materials that cannot be produced by alternative methods, and to do all this with greater speed and energy savings.
In recent years, the materials community has become increasingly aware of the potential for microwave processing, and there is now an active R&D effort worldwide to explore, develop, and exploit this potential. In 1988 the Materials Research Society held the first international symposium on microwave processing of materials to review and publish some of these new developments. Every year since then, MRS and the American Ceramic Society have alternated sponsoring symposia on this topic.