One of the most talked about areas of materials research over the last few years is materials chemistry. A look at the MRS Fall Meeting program reveals at least seven symposia which could be considered materials chemistry and a number of more focussed meetings are also taking place, such as the Inorganic Materials Conference in September in Versailles. 

However, there is a lot of debate about what materials chemistry actually is. There are some that say materials chemists are just chemists in search of funding in much the same way as the physics community leaned hungrily towards materials science in search of funding over the last decade. At the other end of the spectrum there are those that take a universal view and include solid-state chemistry, carbon science and even polymer science in their definition. Of course, the truth lies between these two extreme cases and there are various committees around the world, including the NSF in the USA, engaged in trying to pin the definition down. 

Whatever the final definition of materials chemistry that emerges, what is clear & that there are tremendously exciting new offshoots of materials science which take advantage of new chemistry-based approaches. In fact, chemistry may provide a complete new pallette of materials for materials scientists and engineers to use. As a chemist colleague put it, chemistt'y provides an alternative to the "'heat and beat, and bake and shake approach to materials science!" 

In this isue, we look at three such approaches. Firstly, Dr Julian Vincent from Reading University in the UK, asks us to step back from the hurly-burly of materials science and look at nature for inspiration in solving materials and engineering problems. Understanding the materials science and chemistry of natural materials can lead to significant advances in man-made materials. Professor C.N.R. Rao describes the phenomenon of colossal magnetoresistance in rare earth manganates and suggests possible applications for this in electronics. We then look at the new technique of combinatorial materials science with Dr Xiao-Dong Xiang from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories in California and explore an accelerated route to the synthesis and characterization of new materials

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(98)80001-1