The year 1992 is very special for Spain: 500 years have passed since the discovery of the American continent. That discovery helped make Spain the most powerful country in the world in the 16th century. In time, though, Spain lost its influence to England, and materials processing played a surprising role in this transfer. It has been shown that one of the main reasons Spain's “Invincible Armada” was defeated by the English Navy was that the Spanish ships used faulty cannon balls. The balls were of such poor quality that, once fired, they disintegrated before they could damage enemy warships. Faulty material technology—low compactness or degree of sintering—caused the disintegration.
As we approach the 21st century, the Spanish scientific community has reached a high level of expertise in materials science. A decade ago, Spain's R&D activities were poorly funded and research was carried out without the necessary infrastructure. In 1986, the government established a national R&D strategy which included a dedicated Program for New Materials. In addition, the Regional Communities (Autonomias) have reinforced these nationally planned and funded R&D activities. And as a member of the European Community (EC), Spain has also begun integration into European R&D. After three years, Spanish scientists are already achieving success in the Brite/Euram Program at a level comparable to more scientifically and technologically advanced countries. Figure 1 shows the Spanish government's total R&D budget in materials science from 1985 to 1991, and additions from the EC since 1989. Clearly, financial support for materials science has increased dramatically in the last few years.