Like all the best discoveries, I stumbled across materials science by accident. While trying to decide what I wanted to spend three years of a PhD studying, a tutor showed me a TEM micrograph. I couldn't believe what I was seeing - a whole invisible landscape had suddenly been revealed. 

To be a scientist is to be an explorer of new worlds - and this analogy seems especially apt for the nanoworld. Microscopy can reveal a new landscape through which we can navigate, build structures and conduct experiments. Like many others, it was microscopy that brought me to materials science. And like those others, I came from a different world. 

The great strength and excitement of this discipline comes from its diversity - uniting scientists from physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, and those rare creatures who actually discovered materials science in time for their first degree. But could this also be a problem? Does materials science exist as a cohesive discipline in the way that physics or chemistry does? Do materials scientists define themselves in the same way that chemists or physicists or biologists might? More importantly, does the public at large - friends down the pub, relatives, fellow passengers on the morning commute - have any idea what a materials scientist does? And does it even matter?. In a sense it does not, as long as interesting, useful research is being actively pursued - which is without a doubt the case. But nowadays it's funding that counts - public perception, and hence government action, can be crucial. I would also be sorry if materials science did not receive the attention it deserves as the fascinating, dynamic, beautiful science that it is. The great hope I have for nanoscience and technology is that it does for materials science what the gene did for biology.

I am certainly preaching to the converted, but I hope that Materials Today will continue to serve as a reminder of the excitement of materials research to all scientists, regardless of discipline. I hope the ideas and opinions voiced in these pages will stimulate discussion - with peers and "lay" people alike. I hope that making Materials Today as readable and accessible as possible will make it interesting not just to the experts, but may also serve to share the secret of materials science with the world at large.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(01)80047-X