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.