One of my first tasks on returning to Materials Today from maternity leave was to attend the Materials Research Fall Meeting in Boston to catch up on the latest research. One item caught my eye as the perfect gift – but unfortunately the innovation described by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab's Alex Pentland is not on the market yet. In Media Lab's quest for ‘smart clothes’, which was flagged up at the meeting as a frontier in materials science, researchers have developed prototype glasses with a built-in display. Perhaps it's having a new baby to worry about or perhaps it's just encroaching old age, but the feature that caught my attention was the ability to flash subliminal messages onto the lenses of the glasses with useful information, such as the name of the person you've just bumped into. While the technology does require that all parties are wearing a microchip device to store and transmit their personal information, this does seem like a sure-fire winner to avoid those embarrassing moments at conferences when you just can't put a name to a face!

On a more serious note, the recognition of Robert S. Langer by the Materials Research Society in the form of the Von Hippel Award is an important reminder of how materials science can have a significant impact on society. In just 20 years, the efforts of Langer and many many others have turned biomaterials into a recognized scientific discipline and a multi-billion dollar industry. By taking a systematic approach to designing materials for drug delivery and implantable medical devices, significant improvements in patient treatment have been achieved. When the number of fatalities per year related to prescription drugs is of the order of 100?000 (just through use, rather than misuse), any improvement is to be welcomed. The next 20 years could be even more exciting in this field, Langer suggests, as we have only just reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of the interaction between materials and medicine. In the near future, Langer believes that there will be significant advances in finding routes to repair or replace cartilage, skin, and the spinal cord. Such advances can and will benefit us all.

One thing that I haven't forgotten in my absence, even without ‘smart glasses’, is the wealth of the exciting new developments that materials research continues to produce. Conferences like this serve as a showcase and a timely reminder of the varied and fascinating work being performed under the umbrella of ‘materials research’, and I look forward with relish to hearing more in the coming year, especially from our readers. But if I do happen to see you at a conference in the near future and I don't remember your name, it's not my fault, I'm just wearing the wrong glasses!

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(05)71320-1