This issue of Materials Today may seem a little different. In every issue, we try to focus on the most exciting research in materials science. We pick emerging trends and review the current state-of-the-art in related fields. But this issue doesn’t contain reviews of new materials or experimental techniques. Instead, we take our remit rather literally this month and look at the state of ‘art and materials science’.

You may have thought that there are no links between art and science, but over the last year our regular columnist, Mark Miodownik, has highlighted the emerging collaboration between these two diverse worlds. In this issue, he describes a pilot project at King’s College London for undergraduates that has tried to link art and materials science. His article reminds me of what attracted me to materials science in the first place. Sure, I thought the fundamental science was interesting. Certainly, I was amazed by the myriad applications from electronics to hip implants. But what really caught my eye was the fantastic images of the micro- and nanoscopic world of materials revealed by microscopy. Like a brochure for exotic holidays, I just had to book a trip!

Science certainly has an aesthetic side. Scientists regularly talk about a ‘beautiful’ piece of work, equation, or experiment. It is not just an empty turn of phrase, ‘a beautiful piece of work’ is a whole, satisfying experience — and one that is just as well applied to art, architecture, film, theater, music, or literature. The cover of this issue is a case in point: showing as it does the winning entry in our annual cover competition from I-Cherng Chen and colleagues at the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan. But, once again we were bowled over by the number of stunningly beautiful images that poured in from our readers around the world.

I applaud Mark’s efforts to bring art to science (and not just because it sounds like fun), and it would be nice to see more of the converse — the arts crying out to get more science. We need to reignite our passion for materials science and communicate this not just to our peers, but to the world at large. The ‘99% perspiration’ rule for the scientific endeavor is all very well, but not much good without the 1% inspiration. Creativity is key to good science — excitement and passion help foster that creativity.

Mike Ashby and Kara Johnson echo many of Mark’s points in their review on the art of materials selection. Materials have strong social and cultural identities, which are ignored at peril in the design of the objects that surround us. It is a pertinent reminder of what a materials scientist is: an investigator of materials. And that should include all aspects of materials. An awareness of their uses and how we, as human beings, react to them must be part of that process.

The discipline of materials science is changing rapidly. In order to preserve it and grow it further, we need to find more and better ways of communicating the excitement and beauty of the subject. To do this, perhaps we have to rediscover its origins and rekindle our initial enthusiasm?

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)01201-X