Last week I headed down to London, to Imperial College, for an exhibition on photonics. Why visit a photonics event, and not a materials science conference you may ask…? While the overlap between the two subject areas may not be huge, it is certainly present – and undoubtedly important. Within both disciplines, microscopy and imaging play a pivotal role; as demonstrated by many of the images that have featured on the cover of Materials Today recently. The focus of the conference-slash-exhibition was on using these familiar, optics-based tools in biology; serving to demonstrate that the life sciences have a significant and growing role to play in the application of photonics.
And the same is of course true for materials science – bringing me to the theme of this month's issue: biomaterials. Elegantly defined by the authors of our lead article as “materials either from biology or for biology”.
So, just when did biomaterials become such an important part of materials science? A quick search on Scopus for publications on “biomaterials” reveals that, just as with “nanomaterials”, the surge began during the first few years of the previous decade. Year-on-year, the number of biomaterials publications continues to grow, although the rate has slowed a little since the earlier explosion.
While at one point materials science may have been synonymous with metals, alloys, glasses, composites, and polymer; there can be no denying that the softer and smaller materials (bio- and nano-) now play a major role.
And when we combine these two areas, bio- and nano-, we arrive at the subject of our first review this month: DNA. With the structure of DNA representing one of the most iconic and recognizable images in all of science, as well as forming a basic building-block of life, our interest in biomaterials is perhaps merely logical. After all, it's in our genes.
In our lead article, Dan Luo and colleagues demonstrate that DNA has uses beyond providing a blueprint for life, and can be regarded as a generic material for various applications. Next, Paula Hammond considers drug-releasing surfaces, in the form of water based layer-by-layer (LbL) assembled materials. In our final review, David Kaplan and company examine protein-based composite materials and take a look at the extraordinary range of physical properties they demonstrate.
On a separate note, don't forget to visit www.materialstoday.com to read Bill Wei's response to last month's Comment article on the availability of Rare Earth metals [Mater Today (2012) 4, 134]. If you would like to respond to an article from Materials Today, or indeed from elsewhere, get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Until next month, enjoy your Materials Today.
Stewart Bland, Editor