Living in a Material World: The New Information Technology

8/4/09

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what Mother Nature provided and took matters into our own hands.

—Materials science is also playing a significant role in solar power by helping companies manipulate chemical bonds to bump the rate of photonic energy capture in a given solar cell. Limiting photovoltaic cell construction to naturally occurring materials would have long ago eliminated solar power as an economically viable alternative.

—Seattle-based Modumetal is producing nanolaminate alloys that will soon replace conventional metals and composites in many applications. The company’s new materials are stronger and lighter than steel, run longer and hotter than nickel alloys, and are more corrosion resistant and cost less than stainless.

The big issue seems to be making sure that new materials get the proper funding to develop. Fortunately, the federal government understands the role that materials advancements will play in determining our future economic growth and has decided to invest capital in companies and research teams with the best ideas in this space. VCs (like OVP) are also clearly on board, and are adding materials startups (like EnerG2) to their portfolios.

Another significant issue is education. To make the hard sciences the underpinning of the new energy economy will require more than just capital for entrepreneurs and business executives. It will also require a new generation of trained scientists.

It’s fascinating what a difference a decade makes. During the heyday of the information technology revolution, everyone seemed to be looking for the dot-com or enterprise software company that could produce untold riches. Today, we need organic chemistry and materials science majors to mine the periodic table for the right compounds that will both leave society richer and generate new levels economic growth. Looking back, we’ve obviously redefined what it means to live in a material world.

Chris Wheaton is the co-founder and chief operating officer of EnerG2, an advanced materials and energy storage company in Seattle. Follow @

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  • Bruce

    Thanks for the post! It’s great to see that there is excitement for materials scientists out there. I wonder though, where are the entry level positions for materials scientists? What words of advice do you offer to those who graduated high school in the mid 2000s, got excited about the impending nano revolution that was generating so much buzz based on fundamental advances discussed in this article, and have now recently graduated materials science programs to find a poor economy and technology companies seeking experienced materials professionals? Truth be told, most of my undergraduate classmates are bankers, consultants, or PhD candidates.

  • Mary Rivet

    In 2002, Chris Meyer published “It’s Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology and Business.” The book described “The Molecular Economy,” comprising nanotech, biotech,and materials science, saying there would be a convergence of these molecule-scale technologies similar to the digital convergence of communications, computing and media.

    The book also discussed the parallels between the industrial, information, and molecular economies. I’ve posted the two key charts at http://gallery.me.com/maryrivet#100076

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