Thursday, December 3, 2009

Minerals as Natural Materials, Materials as Engineered Minerals

NOTE: The 5th Africa MRS conference (plus the 8th Nigerian Materials Congress [NIMACON 2009]) takes place Dec. 14-18, 2009 in Abuja. The theme is "Nanotechnology, Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technology for Africa." I’ve previously blogged on earlier A-MRS conferences. I'll be presenting several papers. I hope to see some of you there.

One question I keep asking myself and others is "What should the meaning of 'the field of materials science and engineering in Africa' be today?" Should we mimic the practice in the advanced countries where minerals are separated from other materials?

Very often at conferences in or about Africa, one sees people repeatedly mention the same problems: water, health, energy, environment, food and agriculture. Never do they mention minerals (e.g., see J. D. Sachs' comments "How Science And Medical Communities Can Help Governments Achieve The Millennium Development Goals" on page 17, the 2005 ASADI (African Science Academy Development Initiative) final conference report.

Yet the news is filled with stories about how African minerals (gold, diamonds, tin, coltan, etc.) are driving violence and many of the civil wars on the continent
. I feel very strongly that Africa cannot afford to follow the advanced countries and sever this link between materials and minerals.

In December 2004, I presented at the 3rd US/Africa Implementation Meeting and US/Africa Materials Workshop, in Cairo, Egypt, an NSF-sponsored workshop focusing on sustainable materials processing research. In a talk titled "Minerals as Materials, Materials as Minerals," I presented this idea of the integral connection between the two, one I continue to champion.

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