The Most Interdisciplinary Physical Science

At Franklin & Marshall College we recognize that the study of materials can lead to new sources of energy, to new devices, or to a more sophisticated understanding of our environment.

We also recognize that it is the fundamental principles underlying the relationship between the atomic structure of matter and the properties of matter that allow us to understand not only how to design new materials for the future, but allow us to continue our understanding of the very basis of the nature of matter.

This is our relationship to the liberal arts—primarily we study matter for the insights that we obtain into the workings of Mother Nature.

And, we learn how to exploit these insights to make new devices, to understand what materials were used by ancient cultures, to learn about the processes that occurred in the earth's crust millions of years ago, or simply to understand why certain compounds are found (and exploited for their usefulness) in the earth's crust, whereas, other, similar compounds exist only in our laboratories.



We collaborate with scientists at a variety of institutions, such as:

  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Michigan
  • Messiah College
  • University of Vermont
  • Elizabethtown College

Materials Studies at F&M

What is Materials Studies 

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The study of materials was first undertaken by Physicists and Engineers, who were interested in the bulk properties of solids that make them useful as containers, building materials, or as electrical or magnetic devices.

Within the past several decades, the study of materials, like that of many other types of matter, has moved to the atomic level. The terms-materials science, solid state physics/chemistry, geochemistry, and aspects of environmental chemistry-now include the study of the behavior of matter at the atomic level. These same terms usually carry with them a connotation of practical applications; materials scientists are often interested in the design of new matter with specific properties, based upon what is known about their internal, atomic-level architecture.

The types of materials that are studied vary considerably. They include alloys, minerals, ionic compounds, metals, polymers, and so on.

The methods by which these materials are analyzed also vary considerably, but have some features in common. Some of the analytical methods, such as mass spectroscopy (MS), atomic absorption (AA), inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission (ICP-AES), and X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) are designed to obtain elemental composition, whereas scanning electron microscopy (SEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), and tunneling electron microscopy (TEM) are designed to investigate the surface characteristics of solids. Other techniques-solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), Mossbauer spectroscopy, electron spin resonance (ESR), and infrared or Raman spectroscopy-provide information about how the atoms in the material are bonded to one another.

Finally, the materials scientist is still very much concerned about the properties of the material in bulk-its magnetic susceptibility, electrical conductivity, its thermal characteristics, and so on.


Materials Courses at F&M 

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The following courses are part of the core content of Chemistry, Physics, and Earth and Environment:

CHM 222. Inorganic Chemistry: Structure and Stability

GEO 321. Mineralogy

PHY 442. Condensed Matter Physics



Interdisciplinary Opportunities


Much of the work that we do in materials studies utilizes techniques and theories that were traditionally part of another discipline.

For example, the development of new photovoltaic cells requires an understanding of band theory, a model used to understand the properties of metals that was traditionally a part of physics. Likewise, the development of new types of catalysts from mineral precursors requires an understanding of solid solutions, an area typically in the bailiwick of the geologists.

Indeed, the study of materials is probably the most broadly interdisciplinary of any of the physical sciences.

At Franklin & Marshall we are fortunate to have members of the Chemistry, Physics and Earth & Environment (Geology) departments whose research involves the study of materials.

We are even more fortunate to have students who participate in this research, and, as a result of the inherently great breadth of the area, graduate with a multi-faceted understanding of the nature of matter and the means to exploit that understanding. These students also become coauthors of the publications that result from the research, and, importantly, they become part of a community of interdisciplinary scholars. They share their findings at group meetings, national meetings, and in informal conversations with their peers who share their passion.

We have no formal materials studies major or program, but we do have exciting research, interesting courses, and opportunities to converse with one another and other experts about materials.


Resources – Materials Instrumentation Available 

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The following instrumentation is available at F&M for the study of materials:

  • Atomic Force Microscopy
  • Scanning Tunneling Electron Microscopy
  • Scanning Electron Microscopy
  • Transmission Electron Microscopy
  • X-ray Powder Diffraction
  • X-ray Fluoresence
  • Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy
  • Infrared Spectroscopy
  • Ultraviolet-Visible Spectroscopy
  • Fluorimetry
  • Differential Scanning Calorimetry
  • Thermal Gravimetric Analysis
  • Electrochemical Analyzer/Potentiostat
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Solutions and Solids Probes
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Bibliography - Seminal Texts & Papers in Materials 

General elementary texts that treat materials-related subjects well

Arthur B. Ellis, Margret J. Geselbracht, Brian J. Johnson, George C. Lisensky, William R. Robinson "Teaching General Chemistry: A Materials Science Companion" Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

David W. Oxtoby, Norman H. Nachtrieb, and Wade A. Freeman “Chemistry: Science of Change” 2nd Edition, Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia, 1994. Chapters 20-23, 25-26.

Solid State/Crystallography/Band Theory/Devices

Anthony West, "Solid State Chemistry and Its Applications" John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1984.

S. M. Sze, "Physics of Semiconductor Devices" 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1981.

Robert F. Pierret, "Advanced Semiconductor Fundamentals" Modular Series on Solid State Devices, V. 6, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall, 2002.

F. Albert Cotton, "Chemical Applications of Group Theory" 3rd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1990.


Allen Bard and Larry Faulkner "Electrochemical Methods: Fundamentals and Applications" 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2001.

Donald T. Sawyer, Andrzej Sobkowiak, Julian L. Roberts, “Electrochemistry for Chemists” 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1995.


C. B. Murray, C. R. Kagan, and M. G. Bawendi "Synthesis and Characterization of Monodisperse Nanocrystals and Close-Packed Nanocrystal Assemblies" Annu. Rev. Mater. Sci. 2000, 30, 545–610.

Organic Materials

Jean Roncali “Conjugated poly(thiophenes): synthesis, functionalization, and applications” Chem. Rev., 1992, 92, 711–738.

Serap Günes, Helmut Neugebauer, and Niyazi Serdar Sariciftci “Conjugated Polymer-Based Organic Solar Cells” Chem. Rev., 2007, 107, 1324–1338.

Hybrid Material Devices

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