A Survey of Materials Science in India ca 1979

Reprinted from the Journal of The Institution of Engineers (India) vol. 59, Part 13 lOGE June 1979

UDC 62.002.3 (54)
Materials Technology-The Indian Scene
Prof T R Anancharaman, Fellow*
Prof S Ranganathan, Non_member*

This article highlights the coherence underlying the concept of materials science. It also surveys India’s educational and research efforts to exploit the inter-disciplinary approach of materials technology for the design and development of new materials technology to aid her industrial and economic progress. The paper concludes with a few recommendations for intensification of efforts in this significant area.


If the early periods of human history have been celebrated as the Stone Age, the Iron Age and the Bronze Age, the current period, as mankind moves towards the end of the twentieth century, may well come to be known as the” Materials Age.” The sweeping genera¬lization implied here, this mighty leap from one specific type of material to all kinds of materials, including combinations of them, has been made possible by the rapidly increasing awareness in recent decades of the structure-properties-performance thread in materials. Indeed a majority of the problems and difficulties faced by the engineer and the technologist today, whether these pertain to the challenge of hostile environments such as in outer space, the deep sea or the nuclear reactor, the lure of harnessing the energy of the atom by fusion or the scare of depleting natural resources of energy, is seen to be related to the study and understanding, the design and development, the choice and use of materials.

As the world enters the Materials Age with its awesome possibilities, it is imperative that India accords a high priority to the science, technology and engineering of materials as an integral part of her development programmes. In this article the coherence brought about by the concept of materials science is emphasised first. A survey is then presented of the efforts under way in India’s educational institutions and research establish¬ments to exploit the interdisciplinary approach of this technology for the development of our materials.

There is today a competition and complementation among materials, which have long been traditionally classified into metallics, polymerics, ceramics and composites. These can best be illustrated with reference to conductivity, non -crystallinity and molecular engineering.
High electrical conductivity is associated with metals. Silver has the highest conductivity among them, but for reasons of cost it is replaced by copper in common use. Even copper is proving to be an expensive metal and finds progressive replacement by aluminium. Some draw-backs of aluminium can be overcome by judicious alloying. The National Metallurgical Laboratory at Jamshedpur has successfully developed such alloys in our country.’
Ceramics and polymers are generally thought of as electrical insulators. In this sector materials are now being developed which rival copper in their electrical conductivity. Graphite, where atoms of carbon are arranged in sheets, has a certain amount of conductivity. In the space between these sheets it is possible to introduce other molecules in a process known’ as inter¬calation. Graphite intercalated with phosphoric acid has a conductivity in the basal direction that is better than that of copper.
Organic conductors are a new type or materials opening new vistas in molecular engineering. Alkali tetracyanoquinodimethide (TCNO) salts have electrical conductivities close to those “of metals. Their conducti¬vity-versus-temperature behaviour is similar to that of normal metallic solids such as copper and gold showing a decrease in conductivity with increase in temperature. They can thus be called organic metals.
Another intriguing material is polymeric Sulfur nitride (SN)x. It is lustrous and its conductivity at room temperature is 3.7x 103 (ohm om) -1. It is thus a metal even though it contains no metal atoms! It even becomes super-conducting at 0.3K. Materials like this hold the possibility of an entirely new generation of electronic materials and perhaps even high temperature superconductors.
Polymers are generally noncrystalline. Many ceramics can exist in glassy form. Over the five millennia that metals have been in use, they have been of the crystalline variety. This situation has undergone a remarkable change, when Two decades ago a Technique was invented to cool molten metals at rates exceeding a million degrees per second. With such rapid solidification it has been possible to produce a new class of materials-metallic glasses. These are in several ways superior to crystalline meats and have excellent magne¬tic, mechanical and chemical properties. The Department of Metallurigical Engineering of our university is playing a leading role ,in the development. of these materials in a project supported by the Departmentqf Science and Technology of the Government. ‘of India.

*Professors Anantharaman and Ranganathan are associated with the School of Materials Science and Technology. Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221005.
This paper was received on June 26,1979. Written discussion on this paper will be received until August 31,’1979

Vol 59, June 1979

What needs to be emphasised here is that metallurgists are now borrowing many concepts and ideas originally developed by polymer and glass scientists and applying them to the development of alloys in the vitreous state.
The preparation and characterization of materials form the core of materials science and technology. Spectacular advances have been registered in these areas in the past few years, permitting us to work at molecular levels, Such molecular engineering is an acknowledged fact in polymeric materials, Stereospecific synthesis of pre-ordained configuration of molecules by suitable choice of catalysts earned Natta the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This has been t8ken to a higher level for the preparation of semiconductors in electronics by a process known as Molecular Beam Epitaxy. In this a beam of atoms of precisely controlled composition is allowed to strike a substrate so that by epitaxial growth a ,compound can be built up layer by layer to give the desired composition.
Ideas like the above have begun to permeate metal¬lurgy, where the concept of alloy design” is gaining ground2. The alloy is designed to satisfy specified needs, The story of the development of nimonic alloys as a jet engine material has been narrated by Cahn to illustrate this principle3. It is possible now to calculate using computers the composition of an alloy containing as many as 13 different elements so that the alloy may satisfy the stringent requirements of jet engines. Their ‘efficiency has been mainly limited ,by the operating temperature determined in turn by the alloy in use. Sustained, efforts by metallurgists have pushed the temperatures” upto 1100°C. For further increases the metallurgist may have to turn into a materials scientist4. The candidate materials for operating at 1400°C are ceramic materials based on silicon carbide and silicon nitride. ”
The word” Materials Science” was coined by John Von, Neumann in11951 to signify the interdisciplinary study of matter for entirely practical purposes. In India the educational impact of this idea can be traced to a conference on Materials Science Education orga¬nized at the Indian Institute of Technology (lIT), Kanpur, in September, 1966. The seminar was addressed among others by Professor Morris Cohen,. one of the most renowned, Materials Scientists, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, \.JSA. Since then materials science has flourishd at Kanpur. The beneficial effects arising from this interdisciplinary approach have spread to other places and today we can count at least a dozen centres in our country, where leading groups specializ¬ing in materials science and technology are located.
All the five lIT’s have programmes in this area. Special pride of place must be given to the Advanced Centre of Materials Science at lIT, Kanpur: This prestigious centre has been set up by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of lndia at a cost of nearly Rupees two crores. The centre serves as’ a national focus and has incorporated its charter the extremely desirable feature of inter-institutional collaboration. lts current programmes revolve around development of magnetic bubbles, electro-optic materials, grain riented, silicon steels and resins. The lIT’s at Bombay, Kanpur and’ Kharagpur have launched two-years M Tech interdisciplinary programmes in Materials Science. The admissions’ are open to students” with science and engineering backgrounds. Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, has established a School of Materials Science and Technology, while the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has ‘a Material Science Centre. All these Schools and Centres have intentions of initiating post-graduate programmes. ‘
In parallel with engineering departments offering an M Tech degree, science departments in a few universities have begun one-year M Phil courses in Materials Science. As an example one may cite the University of Roorkee offering a one-year M Phil course in Physics with Materials Science as specialisation.
The above referred developments are welcome, but even now there is need for strict monitoring of the courses in materials science and technology at the national level so that no undue proliferation takes place and standards are maintained. The case for a five-year B Tech course in Materials Technology has also to be studied earnestly.
It has been increasingly recognized in recent years that all undergraduate students in engineering should have exposure to Materials Science, preferably in the second or third year pf the five-year B Tech courses. Several excellent text-books are already available for this purpose5-10 and range in price from Rs. 4 to Rs 4,000, ¬the latter a book supplemented by cassette tapes and slides. Indian authors have contributed to this area and two books commend themselves in particular9-1o.
An interesting innovation in this area is due to Prof Rustum Roy. His Materials Science Centre at Pennsylvania State University, USA, ‘has produced Educational Modules in Materials Science and Engineering (EMMSE) with project support from the National Science Foundation. The modules are brief exposition of individual topics and have the advantage of economy in comparison to standard books. Each student can be asked to study an appropriate set of modules dictated by his background. It is clearly an exciting experiment in education. In India the Advanced Centre for Materials Science at lIT, Kanpur, will soon begin to co-ordinate efforts in this area.

Science independence in 1947 India has developed a broad base in advanced technologies in the areas of nuclear energy, space, defence and electronics. The concerned Departments of the Government of India’ have set up a chain of laboratories, wherein materials development has been given its due priority.
The many diverse problems attending to the fabrica¬tion of atomic fuels and extraction of metals of interest to the nuclear industry have been successfully tackled by ,the BhabhaAtomic Research Centre at Trombay. The problems posed by the adoption of the Fast Breeder Reactor are vigorously pursued by the Reactor Research Centre, its sister laboratory at Kalpakkam. These include handling liquid sodium metal and solutions to radiation swelling of materials. The Material Sciences Committee of the’ Department of Atomic’ Energy has been organizing a series of conferences in this area ever since 1970, when the first conference ;was held in Bangalore. This meeting surveyed extensively., the progress in Materials Science and heralded a new,era,of research and; development in India11.
The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre at Trivandrum has been concerned with ” space” materials required for rocketry applications such as special catalysts ablatives, heat resistant materials and fibre-reinforced plastics for

IE (/) Journal-IDGE

making motor cases. For making special alloys for rocket components special heat treatment and manu¬facturing processes have been developed here.
The Defence Research and Development Organiza¬tion is also concerned with research in Materials Technology. However, the very nature of its work precludes full details from being made available. Nevertheless one must commend the performance of Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory at Hyderabad. Its earlier concern with super alloys led to the establishment of Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited. This plant is to produce a wide range of some of the most complex alloy used in the manufacture of jet engines, allowing India to join the select band of six countries in the world to have this capability. The recent progress of work in defence includes the develop¬ment of materials for brake-pad, where the .translation from the design table to plant production was achieved at an incredibly short period.
In any discussion of materials pride of place must be given to steel. The far-sighted vision of Mohan, Kumarmangalam led to the establishment of the R & D centre for iron and steel by the Steel Authority of India .Limited at Ranchi. In the short period of its existence this centre has brought about several revolutions in steel technology. A neat example in alloy design is provided by micro-alloyed steel. A small quantity of niobium leads to a remarkable increase in strength and toughness. These HSLlA (high strength low alloy) steels have gained popularity.
In the chain of laboratories set up by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, several laboratories are actively engaged in research in materials science. Prominent among them is the Materials Science Division of the National Aeronautical Laboratory at Bangalore. Its development of fibre-reinforced glass has been a success story. In addition, basic studies of matter under high pressure have been conducted here with precision and imagination. The National Physical Laboratory at New Delhi has made significant contri¬butions in the area of ferrites. . The National Metallur¬gical Laboratory at Jamshedpur and the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute at Calcutta are naturally concerned with specific types of materials as their names connote. A newcomer to this area is the Regional Research Laboratory at Trivandrum. If its avowed aim of development of new materials for housing ‘from agri¬cultural and industrial wastes like coconut pits, cash¬ aewnut based wastes etc. succeeds, its contributions will be significant and welcome in the economic develop¬ment of our rural areas. In addition this laboratory is committed to futurology as a tool to design current programmesl2. It conducted a successful seminar on ” Materials for A D 2000″ in March 1979.
There are several international journal where results pertaining to research in Materials Science and Techno¬logy are reported e.g., Journal (}f Materials Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Materials Research Bulletin etc. Indian scientists are active on the editorial boards of these journals. In addition, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy have commenced publication of a Bulletin of Materials Sciences, thus testifying to growth of activity in India in this area.

The foregoing account highlights the fact that in India a sound base for research and development in Materials Science and Technology hag been built up over the past two decades. Educational efforts, which were hesitant at first, have also crystallized into clear-cut post-graduate courses with well-spelt objectives. No longer can this idea be looked upon as another blindly promoted elitist concept from the West. It is gratifying to note that the interdisciplinary approach is being used all the way from housing materials to aerospace hardware.
It is to be hoped that a nation rich in spiritual resources like ours will also make intelligent use of its’ materials resources and researches. The National Academy of Sciences of the USA constituted in 1974 a special committee: on the Survey of Materials Science and Engineering (COSMAT). The four-volume report of the Committee has served as a focal point on the development of Materials Science and Engineering in USA. . Perhaps the time is ripe for a similar effort and survey in our country.

The authors wish to express their profound gatitude to several materials scientists in India and abroad whose views have helped them to sharper their own perspectives. Particular thanks are due to Prof R W . Cahn (Brighton, UK), Prof J W Christian (Oxford, UK), Prof M Cohen (Boston, USA), Sir Alan Cottrell (Cambridge, UK) and Prof B IIschner (Erlangen, West Germany) and their own countrymen Prof V Raghavan (liT Delhi), Prof S Ramaseshan (NAL, Bangalore), Prof C N R Rao (IISc, Bangalore) and Prof E C Subba Rao (liT, Kanpur).
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