MATERIAL ISSUES: Materials science is the study of stuff, including the substances that make up things you use every day, from your shoes, dishes, CDs, to your bicycle or skateboard. All are made from different kinds of materials. Materials derive their unique properties from atomic structure, allowing materials scientists to manipulate atoms and molecules in an effort to design new kinds of stuff with different properties that could show up in the nifty gadgets, clothing and kitchenware of tomorrow. Sometimes the manipulation happens at a larger scale, when scientists use familiar materials in new ways, such as constructing car parts out of coconut husks.
ABOUT PLASTICS: Plastics are a type of polymer, a chemical substance made up of many very large, chain-shaped molecules. These molecules in turn form thousands of repeating units, much like the links in a chain. Different plastics are made by linking together different molecules into different length chains. Mixing polymers with various additives gives them many useful properties, which is why plastics are used so often in our everyday lives. Thermoplastics soften with heat and harden when cooled, such as polyvinylchloride (PVC) and Teflon. They are used in food packaging, milk and water bottles, electrical insulation, carpet fibers, and credit cards, among other items. Thermosetting plastics harden with heat, such as epoxy and polyester. They can be found in mattresses, cushions, varnishes, glues, and coatings on electrical circuits.