No doubts, materials, and material engineering have remarkably advanced the world in unimaginable ways. One would wonder what the 21st-century world would have been without high tensile strength materials, the state of the art technologies employed in the construction of airplanes, ships, and cars, technologies in the construction of bridges structures, top notch houses, and towers, to mention a few. Nonetheless, these innovative technologies also bring alongside some concerns. This study evaluates these concerns as they relate to material engineering.
Global Issues Relating to Materials in Engineering
Materials are relevant virtually in every field of engineering. The difference in materials depends on the engineering process involved. According to UNESCO, engineering is defined as discipline or field, profession, practice, and art that bridges the development, acquisition, and employment of scientific, technical and mathematical knowledge about the development, understanding, design, innovation, invention and use of structures, processes, machines and materials for scientific ends.
One of the most fundamental and emerging challenges or issues relating to materials in engineering involves finding more sustainable substitutes to scarce materials. An exquisite example of this involves the structural use of composites, soil, plastic refuge and agricultural byproducts (UNESCO). It is not enough to find substitutes, but these should be sustainable. Substitutes are not only required for reutilizing materials such as copper in scarce supply but also, they are necessary in order to develop effectively closed cycles of flow for materials between the production and utilization processes.
Besides finding the sustainable substitute for a given material, another important issue is a decision regarding selection for materials. The selection for a given material is dependent on many factors that include economic and environmental performances of the materials. This performance is dependent on the specific type of engineering product considered. The consideration regarding the type of material in selection procedure is imperative especially because of the implication throughout the life-cycle of the product as it affects many aspects of the economic and environmental performances of the material (Gregory and Kirchain).
Perhaps another important global issue that requires attention is environmental pollution. Environmental pollution occurs through various avenues and means such as wear and tear of materials. Stachowiak and Batchelor pointed out that this global issue creates new requirements for bearings as well as wear resistant materials, and this requirement is hard to be satisfied by conventional metallic materials. Such materials which include ceramic ingredient are being developed as a high-temperature cylinder and piston materials for utilization in the adiabatic combustion engine. Polymers are good examples of materials that are designed to make up for this important need. Hence, the tribology of these materials forms a novel study and research area for material engineers. This type of materials is relevant because of the fundamental difference they have with metals in wears and tears as made obvious in their tribology (Stachowiak and Batchelor). The various characteristics of these materials make them quite relevance for various applications.
Societal Concerns on Technological Advancements in Material Science
UNESCO reported that since the earliest times of human civilization, engineering as an activity has had remarkable impacts on the society through the tangible and intangible artifacts it creates. As a matter of fact, engineering products have had both positive and negative influence on mankind and his society. Engineering and its products have modified nature causing several havocs on the natural environment such as global warming. More so, there is growing ethical and societal concerns on various aspects of engineering such as material sciences. Emerging technologies such as robotics, 4-D printing technology, GMOs and so forth have garnered a lot of ethical concerns (Al-Rodhan).
The synergy of engineering with other societal activities seemed to have resulted in lots of untold material prosperity in many societies. However, the developments in mechanization and automation have largely diminished both employment opportunities and person-to-person, as well as face-to-face interaction by imposing machines (UNESCO). In addition, the growth in technological dependency places societies at increasing risk of design faults and technological failures.
Besides the aforementioned ethical and societal issues, engineering also causes severe harm to the societies due to the creation of destructive weaponry. Thus, engineering is a dual-faced profession. Engineering and technological inventions can be used to wipe out an entire civilization. What’s more! UNESCO cited a study carried out at the University of Buenos Aires in which the lethality index of weapons is reflecting that the index has increased by about sixty million times over the course of the century. Another issue of immense societal concern is pollution. Engineering is obviously the major cause of various global environmental problems such as climate change and loss of wildlife. The immense global warming experienced today is a direct result of engineering and its activities. Moreover, engineering materials are often disposed of as wastes causing waste management issues and filling up the landfills.
Obviously, the societal concerns of the engineering profession have a clear relationship with its ethical concerns. As earlier pointed out, it is necessary for engineers to understand the dual nature of the profession so as to deal with these ethical and societal issues. These issues are not limited to material sciences, but they crisscross the engineering profession. However, material science is pivotal here because of the immense role it plays in the engineering profession in general. Moreover, faults and failures in materials and structures result from inefficiency and overdependence on this technology, but these faults are being eliminated to some extent by improvement in the technology.
Material sciences and engineering bear relevance in every aspect of human lives but they pose enormous issues and societal concerns. These range from pollution and difficulty in waste management to faults in materials and the creation of destructive weaponry.
Al-Rodhan, Nayef. "The Many Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies". N.p., 2015. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-many-ethical-implications-of-emerging-technologies/>
Gregory, Jeremy and Randolph Kirchain. A Brief Overview of a Systematic Methodology: Material and Shape Selection. 1st ed. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2005. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001897/189753e.pdf>
Stachowiak, G. W and A. W Batchelor. Engineering Tribology. 3rd ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2005. Print.
UNESCO, Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development. 1st ed. UNESCO, 2010. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/materials-science-and-engineering/3-080-economic-environmental-issues-in-materials-selection-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lec_ms2.pdf>