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A Modern History of Materials

From Stability to Sustainability

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  • © 2023


  • Tells the rich history of materials via two defining concepts of the Modern Age — stability and sustainability
  • Examines materials for a sustainable future from batteries and solar cells to nanotechnology and quantum computing
  • Written in a narrative style accessible to broad general audience

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About this book

What could the ancient Egyptians tell us about 3D printing? How can we make lithium-ion batteries greener and more sustainable? Which materials will form the heart of future quantum computers?

Plastic films, glass optical fibers, silicon crystals, and more — this book is about the history of the materials that have rapidly transformed our society over the last century and their role in the major global challenges of the future. From metal alloys ushering in a new age of industry to advanced materials laying the atomic brickwork of the Digital Revolution, the book examines the societal impact of the modern materials revolution through the twin lenses of stability and sustainability.

Why aren’t maglev trains mainstream? Whatever happened to graphene and carbon nanotubes? The book also looks at the unmet promises of some of the most exciting — and hyped — technologies in recent decades — superconductivity and nanotechnology. The final chapter reviews our history of materials usage, the increasing demand for many critical raw materials, and addresses the upcoming new challenges for creating a circular economy based on reusing and recycling materials.

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Table of contents (10 chapters)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Honors College, Washington State University, Pullman, USA

    M. Grant Norton

About the author

M. Grant Norton is Dean of the Honors College and Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Materials from Imperial College and spent a two-year postdoctoral at Cornell University before joining the Washington State University faculty in 1991. In 2003 and 2004, he was Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Faculty Research Associate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and spent the 1999/2000 academic year as Visiting Professor at Oxford University. From 2004 to 2007, he held Herman and Brita Lindholm Endowed Chair. In 2017, he was a participant in the German-American Fulbright Commission Seminar for U.S. Administrators in International Education. He has held Visiting Professor positions in the Chien-Shiung Wu Honors College at Southeast University in Nanjing and as Global Faculty Fellow at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Professor Norton’s research is primarily focused on applications of nanomaterials in clean energy and the life sciences. He is author or co-author of over 200 papers in the archival literature, several book chapters and patents, two textbooks including Ceramic Materials: Science and Engineering, and most recently the popular science book Ten Materials that Shaped our World. He serves as Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Materials Science and on the International Editorial Board of Journal of Materials Education.

Prior to entering academia, he worked for two major European multinationals: Cookson Group PLC and Heraeus GmbH. He has consulted for a number of companies and organizations including the United States Air Force and REC Silicon, the world’s largest producer of silicon materials. From 2009 to 2011, he was on the Board of Directors of the Washington Technology Center (a gubernatorial appointment). He currently serves on several boards including the advisory board for the Thomas S. Foley Institute for PublicPolicy and Public Service and the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: A Modern History of Materials

  • Book Subtitle: From Stability to Sustainability

  • Authors: M. Grant Norton

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Springer Cham

  • eBook Packages: Physics and Astronomy, Physics and Astronomy (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-23989-2Published: 12 February 2023

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-23992-2Published: 12 February 2024

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-23990-8Published: 11 February 2023

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIII, 216

  • Number of Illustrations: 12 b/w illustrations, 33 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Materials Science, general, History of Science, Nanotechnology, Sustainable Development, Quantum Physics, Semiconductors

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