Robert W. Cahn, acknowledged as one of the founders of materials science, has died aged 82. His research did much to establish our understanding of the behavior of metals, alloys, and intermetallics. But as the head of the materials science department in Cambridge, Lindsay Greer, makes clear in an obituary on page 57, Cahn is widely known not just for the foundations he laid in areas of materials research.

Cahn was also driven by a need to contribute to the recording and archiving of materials science through journals, books, and reference works. The extent of his efforts in this arena are remarkable, and many researchers will have had their first encounters with materials through journals he edited and books he wrote. His was also an international outlook that brought him into contact with many people, and he did much to support young researchers starting out. When his death was announced at the Materials Research Society Spring Meeting in San Francisco, the president of the society Alan Hurd said, “He was one of the giants on whose shoulders we stand.”

Cahn also had a long-standing association with this magazine since its inception in its current form. He wrote erudite reflections on materials science in Cahn's column and served on our Editorial Advisory Panel. His broad interests, including a love of literature and words, led to the contribution of book reviews and an account of his work on the Oxford English Dictionary helping with scientific terms. We will miss his insight and knowledge.

Like many of his generation, Cahn had a fragmented upbringing in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. An indication of just how far we have come since then is that, just before Cahn died, the European Commission (EC) unveiled its vision for a European Research Area (ERA) in which researchers can cooperate freely and effectively.

Establishing the ERA was adopted by the EC as an objective in 2000, and is now looking to determine its next steps toward this goal for 2008 and onwards. It recognizes that are still barriers to researchers looking to move within the European Union, and that there is too much fragmentation in the research being carried out at the national level. A green paper published by the Commission sets out six foundations that would characterize a truly cooperative ERA able to realize Europe's research potential. These include the free movement of researchers, excellent research infrastructures, better partnerships with industry, and coordinated research programs.

Whether you feel more coordination at the European level is a good idea, or one that fills you with a dread of slow-moving bureaucracy, an internationalist – even global – approach to science research and collaboration is a worthy aim, and one that was epitomized by Cahn.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(07)70110-4