Materials Science: Designing A Better World Seminar Series for Lay Audiences

Materials science is responsible for that satisfying clack of colliding billiard balls that sends them racing toward the corner pockets.

In the mid-19th century, billiard manufacturers still made balls from elephant ivory. Fearing a shortage of the valuable material, they offered a reward to anyone who could engineer a replacement material with properties that performed like ivory, including making that satisfying clack. Inventor John Wesley Hyatt created a substance he called celluloid, not only solving the problem but also launching what became known as the Age of Plastics.

Duke University alumni heard this story and others in the first of a series of five virtual monthly seminars, called “Materials Science: Designing a Better World,” hosted by Duke Alumni’s Forever Learning Institute (FLI) on January 25, 2022.

The spring series was a crash course in materials science and engineering from leading researchers in the field, thanks to a collaboration between the Duke Materials Initiative (DMI), the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science (MEMS), the Duke University Energy InitiativeNicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke’s Forever Learning Institute (FLI).

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Watch the Series:

blue graphic titled "What is Materials Science" with start button for video

What is “materials science”? How does materials science research impact the world we live in now and in the future? Learn about this multidisciplinary field of research and why it is a core pillar within Duke Science and Technology.

Panelists: Cate Brinson, the Donald M. Alstadt Chair of the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science and Sharon C. and Harold L. Yoh, III Distinguished Professor; Stephen Craig, the William T. Miller Distinguished Professor of Chemistry


blue graphic titled "Improving Health with Biomaterial Implants"

Duke scientists are unlocking discoveries of bio-inspired materials to help the body heal faster and better—or even replace joints and limbs injured or ravaged by cancer. Warning: Video contains graphic images.

Speakers: Matt Becker, the Hugo L. Blomquist Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; Tatiana Segura, professor of biomedical engineering; and Malcolm DeBaun, assistant professor of Orthpaedic Surgery


blue graphic titled "Partnering Artificial Intelligence and Computation"

Algorithms are finding the perfect recipe to rapidly accelerate discovery of new materials to solve problems in medicine, electronics, transportation and energy.

Speakers: Zhi Chen, PhD candidate, computer science; Mary Bastawrous, postdoctoral researcher, mechanical engineering & materials science; Johann Guilleminot, assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering and mechanical engineering & materials science; and Willie Padilla, professor of computer & electrical engineering


blue graphic titled, "Addressing Climate Change with Sustainable and Energy Materials"

Find out how Duke experts are working to inform smarter, more environmentally friendly design of products and technologies. 

Speakers: Helen Hsu-Kim, professor of environmental engineering; and Megan O'Connor, PhD '17, CEO and co-Founder, Nth Cycle, a metal processing company that developed technology to enable a clean, domestic, and streamlined supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition 


blue graphic titled, "Addressing Climate Change with Sustainable and Energy Materials"

New approaches, led by materials scientists and engineers at Duke involve new thinking within the design phase about light and heat management and to make the built environment efficient, resilient and sustainable.

Speakers: Po-Chun Hsu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science; and Christian Hernandez '97, partner, 2150 


blue graphic titled, "Metamaterials: What are they and what do they do?Materials scientists and engineers at Duke are leaders in founding this field of work that uses artificially structured materials to control and manipulate light, sound and many other physical phenomena.

Speaker: Steven Cummer, the William H. Younger Distinguished Professor Electrical and Computer Engineering