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1. Introduction to materials and materials testing laboratories

What is a material? This question is surprisingly more complex for the layperson than may be expected. The definition of "material" has varied significantly over the years, dependent on the course of study, laboratory, author, etc. A 1974 definition by Richardson and Peterson that has seen some use in academic study defines a material as "any nonliving matter of academic, engineering, or commercial importance."[1] But recently biomaterials like biopolymers (as replacements for plastics)[2] and even natural[3] and engineered biological tissues[4] may be referenced as "materials." (And to Richardson and Peterson's credit, they do add in the preface of their 1974 work that "[a]lthough the volumes are directed toward the physical sciences, they can also be of value for the biological scientist with materials problems."[5] A modern example would be biodegradable materials research for tissue and medical implant engineering.[6]) Yet today more questions arise. what of matter that doesn't have "academic, engineering, or commercial importance"; can it now be called a "material" in 2023? What if a particular matter exists today but hasn't been thoroughly studied to determine its value to researchers and industrialists? Indeed, the definition of "material" today is no easy task. This isn't made easier when even modern textbooks introduce the topic of materials science without aptly defining what a material actually is[7], let alone what materials science is.[8] Perhaps the writers of said textbooks assume that the definitions of "material" and "materials science" have a "well duh" response.

To complicate things further, a material can be defined based upon the context of use. Take for example the ISO 10303-45 standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which addresses the representation and exchange of material and product manufacturing information in a standardized way, specifically describing how material and other engineering properties can be described in the model/framework.[9][10] The context here is "standardized data transfer of material- and product-related data," which in turn involves ontologies that limit the complexity of materials science discourse and help better organize materials and product data into information and knowledge. As such, the ISO 10303 set of standards must define "material," and 10303-45 complicates matters further in this regard (though it will be helpful for this guide in the end).

In reviewing ISO 10303-45 in 2009, Swindells notes the following about the standard[10]:

The first edition of ISO 10303-45 was derived from experience of the testing of, so-called, "materials" properties, and the terminology used in the standard reflects this experience. However, the information modelling of an engineering material, such as alloyed steel or high density polyethylene, is no different from the information modelling of a "product." The "material" properties are therefore one of the characteristics of a product, just as its shape and other characteristics are. Therefore all "materials" are products, and the information model in ISO 10303-45 can be used for any property of any product.

Put in other words, for the purposes of defining "material" for a broader, more standardized ontology, materials and products can be viewed as interchangeable. Mies puts this another way, stating that based on ISO 10303-45, a material can be defined as "a manufactured object with associated properties in the context of its use environment."[11] But this representation only causes more confusion as we ask "does a material have to be manufactured?" After all, we have the term "raw material," which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "the basic material from which a product is manufactured or made; unprocessed material."[12] Additionally, chemical elements are defined as "the fundamental materials of which all matter is composed."[13] Taking into account the works of Richardson and Peterson, Mies, and Swindells, as well as ISO 10303-45, the concepts of "raw materials" and "chemical elements," and modern trends towards the inclusion of biomaterials (though discussion of biomaterials will be limited here) in materials science, we can land on the following definition for the purposes of this guide:

A material is discrete matter that is elementally raw (e.g., native metallic and non-metallic elements), fundamentally processed (e.g., calcium oxide), or fully manufactured (by human, automation, or both; e.g., a fastener) that has an inherent set of properties that a human or automation-driven solution (e.g., an artificial intelligence [AI] algorithm) has identified for a potential or realized use environment.

First, this definition more clearly defines the types of matter that can be included, recognizing that manufactured products may still be considered materials. Initially this may seem troublesome, however, in the scope of complex manufactured products such as automobiles and satellites; is anyone really referring to those types of products as "materials"? As such, the word "discrete" is included, which in manufacturing parlance refers to distinct components such as brackets and microchips that can be assembled into a greater, more complex finished product. This means that while both a bolt and an automobile are manufactured "products," the bolt, as a discrete type of matter, can be justified as a material, whereas the automobile can't. Second—answering the question of "what if a particular matter exists today but hasn't been thoroughly studied to determine its value to researchers and industrialists?"—the definition recognizes that the material needs at a minimum recognition of a potential use case. This turns out to be OK, because if no use case has been identified, the matter still can be classified as an element, compound, or substance. It also insinuates that that element, compound, or substance with no use case isn't going to be used in the manufacturing of any material or product. Third, the definition also recognizes the recent phenomena of autonomous systems discovering new materials and whether or not those autonomous systems should be credited with inventorship.[14] The question of inventorship is certainly worth discussion, though it is beyond the scope of this guide. Regardless, the use of automated systems to match a set of properties of a particular matter to a real-world use case isn't likely to go away, and this definition accepts that likelihood.

Finally, this leads us to the realization that materials, by definition, are inherently linked to the act of intentional human- or automation-driven creation, i.e., manufacturing and construction.

1.1 Materials testing labs, then and now

1.1.1 Materials testing 2.0

1.2 Industries, products, and raw materials

1.3 Laboratory roles and activities in the industry

1.3.1 R&D roles and activities

1.3.2 Pre-manufacturing and manufacturing roles and activities

1.3.3 Post-production quality control and regulatory roles and activities


  1. Richardson, James H.; Peterson, Ronald V. (1974). "Chapter 1: Introduction to Analytical Methods". Systematic Materials Analysis, Part 1. Materials science series. New York: Academic Press. p. 2. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-587801-2.X5001-0. ISBN 978-0-12-587801-2. 
  2. Das, Abinash; Ringu, Togam; Ghosh, Sampad; Pramanik, Nabakumar (1 July 2023). "A comprehensive review on recent advances in preparation, physicochemical characterization, and bioengineering applications of biopolymers" (in en). Polymer Bulletin 80 (7): 7247–7312. doi:10.1007/s00289-022-04443-4. ISSN 0170-0839. PMC PMC9409625. PMID 36043186. 
  3. Kurniawan, Nicholas A.; Bouten, Carlijn V.C. (1 April 2018). "Mechanobiology of the cell–matrix interplay: Catching a glimpse of complexity via minimalistic models" (in en). Extreme Mechanics Letters 20: 59–64. doi:10.1016/j.eml.2018.01.004. 
  4. Kim, Hyun S.; Kumbar, Sangamesh G.; Nukavarapu, Syam P. (1 March 2021). "Biomaterial-directed cell behavior for tissue engineering" (in en). Current Opinion in Biomedical Engineering 17: 100260. doi:10.1016/j.cobme.2020.100260. PMC PMC7839921. PMID 33521410. 
  5. Richardson, James H.; Peterson, Ronald V. (1974). "Preface". Systematic Materials Analysis, Part 1. Materials science series. New York: Academic Press. p. xiii. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-587801-2.X5001-0. ISBN 978-0-12-587801-2. 
  6. Modrák, Marcel; Trebuňová, Marianna; Balogová, Alena Findrik; Hudák, Radovan; Živčák, Jozef (16 March 2023). "Biodegradable Materials for Tissue Engineering: Development, Classification and Current Applications" (in en). Journal of Functional Biomaterials 14 (3): 159. doi:10.3390/jfb14030159. ISSN 2079-4983. PMC PMC10051288. PMID 36976083. 
  7. Callister, William D.; Rethwisch, David G. (2021). "Chapter 1. Introduction". Fundamentals of materials science and engineering: An integrated approach. Hoboken: Wiley. pp. 2–18. ISBN 978-1-119-74773-4. 
  8. Sutton, Adrian P. (2021). Concepts of materials science (First edition ed.). Oxford [England] ; New York, NY: Oxford University Oress. ISBN 978-0-19-284683-9. 
  9. "ISO 10303-45:2019 Industrial automation systems and integration — Product data representation and exchange — Part 45: Integrated generic resource: Material and other engineering properties". International Organization for Standardization. November 2019. Retrieved 20 September 2023. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Swindells, Norman (2009). "The Representation and Exchange of Material and Other Engineering Properties" (in en). Data Science Journal 8: 190–200. doi:10.2481/dsj.008-007. ISSN 1683-1470. 
  11. Mies, D. (2002). "Chapter 17. Managing Materials Data". In Kutz, Myer. Handbook of materials selection. New York: J. Wiley. p. 499. ISBN 978-0-471-35924-1. 
  12. "raw material". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 20 September 2023. 
  13. Lagowski, J.J.; Mason, B.H.; Tayler, R.J. (16 August 2023). "chemical element". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 20 September 2023. 
  14. Ishizuki, Naoya; Shimizu, Ryota; Hitosugi, Taro (31 December 2023). "Autonomous experimental systems in materials science" (in en). Science and Technology of Advanced Materials: Methods 3 (1): 2197519. doi:10.1080/27660400.2023.2197519. ISSN 2766-0400.