Adventures in Materials Discovery

Keegan Hommerding,* Zoe Ohlstein,* Collin Swanson,* Annie Zemp,* Professor Thao Tran
Department of Chemistry, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29630 USA

*These authors contributed equally to this work


The periodization of human history is defined by the principal material used in the technology of that time period. These ages most notably include the Stone, Bronze, Iron, and currently, the Silicon age, but what is next? The basis of our Creative Inquiry Project is to answer this question by investigating the history of Materials Science by creating an animation to illustrate this history, and to work in the lab on projects in the field of multifunctional and quantum materials. Each student is assigned a specific material age to investigate and to use Blender, a free 3D-animation software, to create an animation that illustrates their material age. The investigation and animation production focus on the following list of questions: “What is the material, and what was production like?”, “What were the challenges of the previous age?”, “Why was the material better than its predecessor?”, “What was the discovery and thinking process like?” and “What were the disadvantages of the material?” By answering these questions and understanding the previous and current material ages, we are building a perspective on the history of materials science that then gives us the perspective to conduct our own research in the laboratory. These projects are specifically focused on multifunctional and quantum materials chemistry, an area that our group believes can answer the new question of, “What material is next?”. Each undergraduate student has been paired with a graduate student and been given a specific project to work on surrounding multifunctional and quantum materials chemistry, specifically potential topological spin textures and novel layered semimetals. With this Creative Inquiry poster, we will share our understanding of the history of materials science and our research update that could help answer the question, “What is the next age-defining material?”


Material science is the basis for technology and allows for exponential growth in human advancement. The search for the next material that will revolutionize humanity has begun, but to do so, we must understand how we got to the present day.

  • What was the Material, and what was production like?
  • Challenges of the previous age?
  • Why was the material better than its predecessor?
  • Discovery and thinking processes?
  • Disadvantages of the material?

Stone Age

The first known tools of humans were made of stone which was fashioned by knocking flakes of stone off of another rock with another hard material, such as bone or another rock. However, not every rock would fracture cleanly or be able to hold an edge, due to the direction of the force on the rock.


Bronze Age

Bronze, a mixture of ~88% copper and ~12% tin, has a low enough melting point to be melted with a coal fire, and the metallic bonding within the material makes it malleable enough to be formed into new tools like saws and swords. These saws opened up the opportunity to create wheels as well.

Cu(s) + Sn (s) -> (Cu/Sn)(s) Alloy

Iron Age

Composing 35% of the earth’s crust, Iron is the most abundant metal on earth, making extraction and use of the metal quicker and easier than Bronze. Iron ore, also known as mineral hematite, has the chemical formula Fe2O3.

Fe2O3(s) + 3CO(g) -> 2Fe(s) + 3CO2(g)

Silicon Age

Silicon is a semiconductor which means it has very unique properties. Silicon is a conductor as well as an insulator allowing for data storage on a transistor chip, and computer coding to occur. Silicon also has an octahedral crystal structure which makes it a very durable material. 

SiO2(s) + 2C(s) -> Si(s) + 2CO(g)

Pursuit of New Materials

Our group works to solve fundamental challenges in materials chemistry directly relevant to current energy and information technology research.

Multifunctional and quantum materials are at the forefront of new technological advances in quantum information science. Combining multiple functionalities in a single system will advance future technology, but this is difficult to achieve.

Our research aims to improve future technology by developing multifunctional materials that have the potential to improve semiconductors, boost data storage, enable quantum computing, and enhance automation.

The future is quantum.


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This work was supported by Clemson Creative Inquiry.

We would like to thank our advisor, Professor Tran, for her encouragement and support. We would also like to thank our graduate students, Ebube Oyeka, Xudong Huai, Dasuni Rathnaweera, and Uchenna Chinaegbomkpa, for their help and support.