Published: Jan 1961
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The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age (and in these heady times the Bone Age)—thus does the history of man recognize the pre-eminence of materials in the advance of civilization. Ironically, this ancient sense that the art and science of things—of structures, of tools, of clothes, of vehicles—was the essence of human progress, has inhibited an “intellectuality” of materials from forming until very recent years. That is, the nature and behavior of solids—of metals, wood, fibers, ceramics, minerals—have been assumed to constitute their own universe of old and occult knowledge. They were things in themselves (not part of a continuum of theory and concept), and thus both inaccessible and uninviting to the probing intellects who measured the courses of the remote and isolated stars, who measured and pondered the geometry of a ray of light and the colors of its waves, and even to those, like Maxwell and Humboldt and Huygens, who saw deeply into the immaterial fluxes of electromagnetism and of heat. Even in this century the triumphs of Einstein in radiation physics, of Planck, Bohr, and Heisenberg in quantum and wave mechanics, were attached to separate atoms. The hydrogen molecule, the gas ensemble, the electron, the proton, the nuclear particle, the electromagnetic field around it—these seemed to be the things that man could understand, or as Professor Weisskopf put it not so long ago: “If you understand hydrogen, you understand everything that is understood.”
Baker, W. O.
Vice-President—Research, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., Murray Hill, N. J.