Thursday, 21st April 2011
11:00 A.M. Samsung Auditorium
Dr. James D. McGuffin-Cawley
Arthur S. Holden Professor of Engineering and Chair Department of Materials Science and Engineering Case Western Reserve University
The questionable availability of rare earth elements has received prominent coverage in media such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal. This stems from the fact that these elements illustrate the connection of engineering materials to quality of life, the opportunity to push technology in new directions, and national economies. Aspirations for new so-called renewable energy sources and advanced energy storage devices cannot be realized without access to certain materials. This particular case also highlights the global interdependence of industrial economies in the United States, Europe, and Japan regarding access to mineral-based resources, as well as the critical role that materials science and engineering plays.
It is both my hope and expectation that the situation with rare earths can catalyze a broader set of questions about the geographic, social, and political implications of the distribution of raw materials as related to key manufacturing and other materials-intensive industries. The prospect for the future of a broad array of materials is actually quite similar to that of the rare earths. This is true if one considers the tension between the steel industry and the aluminum industry when it comes to the availability of bauxite (for refractories in the former case and to feed the Bayer process in the latter) or the humanitarian consequences of using tantalum for capacitors or the long-term requirement of reusing and reprocessing metals and other materials as remaining supplies of ore face increasing pressure. These forces will affect the priorities of both materials education and materials research in the coming decade.