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Greatest Materials Inventions


Top Materials Inventions

1) Iron smelting/steel.

​Iron by mass is the most abundant element on Earth.

Steel is the greatest materials invention. Yet, iron is the fourth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.
In addition, iron is almost entirely present in mineral ore form and rarely in meteoric elemental form.
Prior to smelting meteoric iron was more valuable than gold due to its rarity and hardness. To smelt iron requires a kiln or furnace capable of reaching 1500 degrees Celsius or about 500 degrees hotter than that required
smelt copper. Although smelting of iron began around 2000 BCE, widespread forging (working/hammering) to create superior tools and weapons did not occur until around 1200 BCE.

By 1600 BCE, Hittites used iron to make weapons.

Due to tendency for rust corrosion and difficulty with working smelted iron, several centuries passed before iron
surpassed bronze for metal tools and weapons. Unlike bronze which tends to form a protective
passivizing layer, rust on iron will flake off exposing deeper iron to further rust corrosion. Also, unlike
bronze, iron has magnetic properties.

Compared to ancient China, the output of Roman iron was far greater. Roman iron output estimates at 85,000 tons or about 12x that of a similar population in the Han dynasty of China (5000 tons) at the same time period. Blast furnaces supply forced air at higher pressure than one atmosphere.

Higher pressure and moving air leads to hotter fire temperatures necessary to smelt iron (500 degrees hotter than bronze smelting). Then by 250 BCE wootz steel made in heat resistant crucibles in southern India went to Damascus, Syria where “Damascus steel” was forged. Forging (hammering) makes steel anisotropic by metal grain compression, shrinking of the metal grain, and elongation of the metal grains. Defects, voids, porosity, and inclusions are hammered out with forging resulting in unbroken grain flow improving steel strength.

Steel is an alloy of carbon (<2%) and manganese (<1%) and iron (98%)

which creates iron alloy with markedly improved strength. Trace amounts of silicon, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen are present in steel. By 1000 AD Bessemer-like steel production occurred first in China but then not in Europe until Henry Bessemer patented the process in 1856 in Scotland.

Steel was the material on which the Industrial Revolution was built.

By 1700s, the first iron foundries began in Great Britain. ​ World steel and stainless steel production has gone up linearly since 1950, like copper.

Bessemer process is critical for large volume, low cost, high grade steel.

In the 1870s, Andrew Carnegie used to the Bessemer process on a large industrial scale to dominate steel production in the US thereby becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world. Iron smelting ranks as the #11 Greatest Invention of All TIme.

2) Copper smelting/bronze/insulated copper wires.​

Copper exists primarily as a copper mineral ore but small amounts of elemental copper also exists. Use of elemental copper (without smelting) began around 8000 BCE. Later by 5000 BCE, copper was first smelted from mineral ore. Then, copper with arsenic (arsenic bronze) was the first metal alloy. Arsenic poisoning led to tin replacing arsenic in the bronze alloy. Forging (working/hammering) of metal began in 4000 BCE. Forging of bronze, like steel, improves the mechanical properties and metal grain structure of the final product, tool, or weapon.

Ideally, bronze is 88% copper and 12% tin (8:1).

The earliest bronze dates to 4500 BCE in the Vinca culture in modern Serbia. By the 3800 BCE, bronze smelting had spread to Egypt, Iran, and Mesopotamia. In 3500 BCE, widespread use of smelting copper and tin created bronze though much of the ancient world. Across the planet, around 600 BCE, copper smelting in Mesoamerica began.

The Bronze Age was when the world’s hardest used metal was bronze.

(3800 BCE-1300 BCE). China’s bronze age began 2100 years later, around 1700 BCE. Bronze will
oxidize but only a very thin superficial layer. Unlike rust with steel, bronze does not continue to oxidize. Bronze
was useful for ship fittings due to its resistance to salt water corrosion . Also unlike steel, bronze does
not generate sparks when struck with flint. Additionally, bronze has far less friction than iron against other metals.
Bronze expands when hardening to create superior cast impressions for sculptures, tools, and weapons.

The two main uses of copper are the creation of bronze and later, widespread use in copper electrical wires. Copper is a superior conductor of heat and electricity.

Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the long lasting light bulb filament in 1879 began the movement toward electrification of homes and businesses.

Electrification is one of great technological
triumphs of history and electric technology defines the 20th century.

World production of copper has increased in a linear fashion since 1945 like steel
and stainless steel.​ Chile is the world’s leading producer of copper, producing ⅓ of the world’s annual copper. Of all copper ever mined, 95% has been mined since 1905.

Tin was far more rare than copper. Usually not mined together, trade to get both tin and copper was usually necessary. Collapse of
the tin trade from Britain in 1100 BCE likely contributed heavily to the transition from bronze to iron.

Forged steel was harder, stronger, and holds an edge longer than bronze. The abundance of iron ore
compared to bronze alloy contributed to the replacement of bronze with iron.

Copper wires are giving way to wireless technologies and glass fiber
optics for communications. ​

Insulated copper wires and electricity rank as the #12 Greatest Invention of All Time.

3) Silicon.

Silicon discovery in 1823 was by Jons Jacob Berzelius. Silicon is the second most abundant substance in the Earth’s crust after oxygen. 90% of the earth’s crust is made of silicate minerals Likewise, silicon is the eighth most abundant element in the universe, silicon comprises 28% of the Earth’s crust but almost never in the elemental form. Also, silicon is a metalloid which means the material has only some metal properties. Semiconducting is the most important property of silicon from an electronic standpoint. Semiconductor means silicon is in between true metal conductors like copper and insulators such as glass (which interestingly contains silicon dioxide). Most commercial use of silicon is as an unprocessed mineral of clay, sand, or stone especially in Portland cement for concrete. Processed and highly purified silicon is used in the semiconductor industry.

Semiconductors make good electronics due to compactness, efficiency, low cost, and reliability.

Invented in 1947, the first transistors came from germanium, not silicon. In 1954 at Bell labs and later at Texas Instruments, the first silicon transistors originated. By 1958, silicon has replaced germanium for electronics. Because silicon is required for MOS (metal-oxide-silicon) transistors and integrated circuits, production of the metalloid is essential for the high tech industry. MOSFET stands for metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor.

The #1 manufactured device of all time is the MOSFET.

MOSFETs are manufactured in larger numbers than any device in history with an estimated 16 sextillion MOSFETs manufactured between 1960 and 2020. ​ This timeframe represents the so-called “Silicon Age”. The Intel Pentium D processor has 230 million MOSFET. Surprisingly up to 40 billion MOSFET exist on a current 3-D microprocessor chip. China produces ⅔ of world silicon . Russia is #2 in silicon production at 10% supply. The US and Norway tie at #3 or 6% while the rest of the world produces 18% of silicon.

More than any other material, silicon defines the 21st century.

Silicon transistor/microprocessor rank as #21 Greatest Invention of All Time.

4) Magnifying lenses/microscope/telescope

Glass production originated in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt around 3500 BCE. The technology of make glass is similar to that necessary to smelt bronze so not surprisingly the technology for both developed around the same time.

In fact, glass beads may have originated from the molten slag produced from smelting metal ores.

Further, the earliest surviving glass beads in Egypt appeared in 3100 BCE. Early in the history of glass production, the melting temperature of glass is seen to drop dramatically with the addition of soda (sodium bicarbonate) from burned seaweed or wood and sea shells (lime) making soda-lime glass production far easier. Later, mold shaped glass vessels appeared in Egypt around 1500 BCE. By then, extensive glass production was occurring in many locations but glass remained a luxury item.

Soda-lime glass is the most common glass type, with 90% of manufactured glass being soda-lime type.

Glass is typically plate glass (window) or container (bottle). Soda-lime glass is recyclable. Modern soda-lime glass is about 72% silica (sand). The melting temperature of sand is 1723 C. The addition of soda, or sodium carbonate, allows glass to soften at 700 C and melts at 1000 C which is very near the smelting temperature of copper for bronze (1085 C).

Then, in 650 BCE, a manual for glass making was produced by Assyrian Assurbanipal. Glass blowing created an explosion of glass production and originated in Syria and Mesopotamia around 100 BCE. From 25-400 AD extensive growth of Roman glass making occurred with decreased costs and increased availability. The Romans invented clear glass in 100 AD. in Alexandria , Egypt with the addition of manganese dioxide. By 1000 AD Alexandria Egypt became the major glass center of the world. In 1291 AD Murano, Italy became a major glass center. By 1250 sheet glass making occurred in Sussex, England.

English Roger Bacon created the first magnifying lens around 1250. Spectacle/eyeglasses are invented by the late 1200s. In the late 1500s, Venetian glassblowers moved to western and northern Europe seeking a better life. By 1550, refractories were invented further improving the quality of quantity of clear glass production. Refractories are ceramic mixed oxides of aluminum, silicon, or magnesium which are highly heat resistant and form crucibles or kilns to make glass or smelt metal ores. These new technologies allowed improved lens quality production by the late 1500s, giving birth to dramatically improved magnifying lenses.

In 1590 the microscope and 1608 the telescope originated in the Netherlands using similar technologies.

Zacharias and Hans Jansen created tubes with stacked lenses making the first compound microscope in 1590. The maximum magnification was only 9x, not enough to see microorganisms. This microscope was more in concept but functioned more like a magnifying glass. In 1675, Dutch Antony van Leeuwenhoek “father of microbiology” created the first true microscope with his own single biconvex lenses home made from polishing a nearly spherical glass orb. His glass spheres he made himself with soda lime glass he melted and shaped into spheres, the smaller the sphere the larger the magnification. The smallest lenses were 1.5 mm in diameter larger lenses were up to 3 mm in diameter. The microscope itself was only 1 inch (20mm) by 3 inches (47mm). He kept much of his lens making techniques secret.

The Leeuwenhoek microscope focused with 3 screws onto a pin and provided proven magnification up to 270x with a resolution of 1 micron.

He made 25-50 microscopes, of which only 9 survive to this day. The smaller and more powerful the lens, the more difficult to make and use. His best contemporaries (Robert Hooke) achieved 30x-50x magnification (8 micron resolution). Leeuwenhoek was able to see animalcules (microorganisms) in a drop of water, active sperm, and blood cells. His microscopes were difficult to use and difficult to duplicate.

150 years passed before microscope technology and magnification superseded Leeuwenhoek’s microscope.

High quality compound microscopes would not be developed until the mid-1800s. Microscopy allowed visualization of a new universe of the small.

Dutch Hans Lippershey, first of many competitors, in 1608 patented the refracting telescope. That next year in 1609, Galilei Galileo improved the refracting telescope design creating a telescope with 30x magnification. Galeleo discovered the 4 moons of Jupiter shortly thereafter. The discovery of another planet with moons completely changed the course of human awareness in the universe. In 1611, the word TELESCOPE is coined by Giovanni Demisiani of Greece. Also in 1611, Johannes Kepler describes the optics of a new design 2 convex lenses telescope. In 1668, Isaac Newton creates the first functional reflecting telescope.

By 1990, the Hubble space based telescope (2.4 m or almost 8 foot mirror) becomes one of the greatest telescopes of all times. In 2021, the James Webb telescope will be launched into orbit with a 6.5m (21feet) diameter mirror. The James Webb telescope will operate at 50 K or -223 C (-370 F) on the dark side of the Earth for maximum infrared function.

Magnifying lenses rank as #22 Greatest Invention of All Time.

5) Battery/Lithium ion

Alexandro Volta invented the battery in Italy in 1800. Gaston Plante invented the rechargeable lead acid battery in 1859. The lead acid battery still sees use today in motor vehicles. German, Carl Gassner invented the dry cell battery in 1886. Waldermar Jungner of Sweden in 1899 invented the nickel-cadmium alkaline battery. In 1955, alkaline batteries (manganese dioxide and powdered zinc) saw further improvements compared to zinc-carbon.

The idea of a lithium ion battery originated in the 1970’s with M. Stanley Whittingham. Less toxic than lead or cadmium batteries. The battle in personal electronics batteries was between nickel metal hydride and lithium ion in the 1990’s. Lithium ion is winning the battle and is dominant and the fastest growing battery type. The energy density of lithium ion is 2-3x that of nickel cadmium. No memory is present with lithium ion batteries, that is, full discharge is unnecessary for recharge. The batteries can be recycled but mining is cheaper. Lithium ion batteries often fail after 2-5 years. Relatively low self discharge rates compared to nickel cadmium is a major advantage. Lithium ion batteries are about 40% more expensive to manufacture than nickel cadmium batteries. They are also sensitive to high temperatures and rarely can explode into fire.

Lithium originates mostly in the high altitude lakes of the “lithium triangle” of South America

(Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina) and Australia. Elemental lithium is produced by electrolysis of lithium
salts (brine). Until 1950, lithium carbonate was part of the recipe for 7up. Lithium carbonate is an important mood stabilizing drug used to treat manic depression. The battery and the lithium ion battery rank as the #27 Greatest Invention of All TIme.

6) Chromium alloys (stainless steel)​

Above all, chromium (alloy) gives stainless steel its anticorrosive properties. Whereas galvanized steel is not an alloy, rather it is steel with a surface treatment with a layer of zinc to prevent corrosion. Stainless steel alloy is more corrosion resistant than bronze, copper, or aluminum. The passivation layer with chrome is only a couple atoms thick. When polished chromium reflects about 70% of visible light. 85% of chromium use is with steel alloys and electroplating. Stainless steel is 10-30% chromium, 51-90% steel.

Chromium is the third hardest element after diamond and boron.​

Stainless steel is easy to sterilize and is 100% recyclable. Since 1950 stainless steel rates of production have increased linearly, like steel and copper. Modern uses of stainless steel include: architecture, kitchen sinks, utensils, surgical instruments, automobile/transportation parts, road tankers, storage tanks, valves, ship containers, off shore oil rigs, bridges, sculptures, roofs, kitchen appliances, and food serving equipment, Chromium-steel alloys rank as #28 Greatest Invention of All Time.

7) Ceramics.

The earliest ceramic (figurine) dates to 25,000 BCE with the Venus of Lespugue, France. The first ceramic tiles from Mesopotamia, date to 14,000 BCE. Similarly, the earliest ceramic vessels date to 17,500-12,000 BCE in China. Later, the first kiln fired bricks date to 9000 BCE in Mesopotamia. Also, the first glazes for ceramics date to 6500 BCE in Egypt. While in 3800 BCE saw the invention pottery wheel in Mesopotamia which allowed the mass production of ceramic vessels with radial symmetry. Meanwhile, the Chinese invented porcelain using kaolin clay around 600 AD. Porcelain has less than 1% porosity creating a hard, dense ceramic. In 800 AD Native American pottery originated from the Moche people.

Blast furnace developed in Europe by the 1400’s.

High temperature resistant materials, aka refractories, originated in the 1500’s allowing construction of large scale industrial furnaces for mass production of ceramics, metals, and glass. By the 1850s porcelain electrical insulators appeared. 1930 Luster glaze technique developed by Beatrice Wood in California. Nitrides and carbide alumina ceramics saw use in the 1960s for high voltage lines. 1980s high temperature superconducting ceramics originated.

Global ceramic and glass industry is a 1.0 trillion dollar market.  Modern uses of ceramics include: floor and wall tiles, cookware, vessels, pipes, refractories, missile nose cones, ball bearings, lubricants, electrical insulators, electrical transducers, capacitors, spark plugs, brake pads, low temperature superconductors, scratch resistant watch casings, body armor, armored vehicles, abrasives, scratch resistant glass, mortar and pestle, bricks, jet turbine blades, gas burner nozzles, piezoelectric devices, toilets, heat resistant aeronautic tiles, catalytic converters, ceramic knife blades, refractories in foundries and kilns, bone substitutes , tooth, and joint replacements. Ceramics rank as the #34 Greatest Invention of All Time.

8) Wood working, carpentry

Wood is arguably the most versatile material on the planet.

Without a doubt, wood is far more ecological than plastic.

Wood can be cut, bent, shaped, polished, nailed, screwed, painted, made into paper, furniture, tools, weapons, and burned as fuel. Composed primarily of cellulose fiber, wood gives information about the health and climate during the life of the tree. The rise of metal tools around 3500 BCE brought a monumental expansion of uses for wood. Materials like plastic, ceramics, glass, and unforged metal are all isotropic, that is the properties of equal in all plains with the material. Wood is anisotropic, that is, the properties of wood have a directionality. Strength in tension and compression depends on the direction of the force relative to the grain of the the wood.

Bronze tools and later iron tools allowed wood working with greater ease and control.

Wood is the second most commonly used building material after concrete.

Top 10 uses of wood:

a. construction, timber, flooring, and fencing,

b. domestic uses with utensils and hand tools

c. art/sculptures/decorations, musical instruments,

d. toys/sport equipment,

e. furniture

f. transportation/carts/sleds/floats/ship building,

g. fuel (unlike plastic)

h. paper/pencil/cardboard /signage (unlike plastic)

i. utility poles (unlike plastic)

j. insulation (cellulose)

Wood working/carpentry rank as the #41 Greatest Invention of All Time.

9) Plastics

Plastic is an organic polymer usually made from petrochemicals. There are 2 main types of plastic:

  1. Thermoset plastic irreversibly is shaped into an object and cannot be reshaped – polyurethane, polyester, epoxy
  2. Thermoplastic melts when heated and can be heated and reshaped. polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene, polypropylene

Versatility of plastics rivals wood.

Top 10 uses of plastics

a. bottles/containers for food/beverages/liquids/medical/tupperware/vehicle fuel tanks

b. PVC piping/straws/tubing

c. furniture/ playground fixtures/faux wood

d. clothing/protective equipment/faux leather/polar fleece

d. flooring

e. records/CD/DVD/BluRay

f. bags/tape/ties

g. appliance/electronics casing

h. tools/utensils/instruments

i. signage

j. insulation for construction and electrical wires

Current automobiles are up to 20% plastic.

By 1856, celluloid (Parkesine) was the first synthetic plastic by Alexander Parkes. PVC, polyvinyl chloride, in 1872 originated accidentally by Eugen Bauman, a German. In 1898, polyethylene first appeared with German Hans von Pechmann. Later in 1907, Bakelite, first fully synthetic thermoset plastic originated in the US with Leo Baekeland using phenol and formaldehyde.

In 1912, cellophane was patented by Jacques E Brandenberger. Then in 1926, a method to plasticize PVC originated with Walso Semon and BF Goodrich Co. Later, in 1930, neoprene appeared with DuPont. The 1930s saw polystyrene made by BASF. Then, in 1931, vinyl records originated with RCA Victor.

Industrial production of polyethylene began in 1933 in Norwich, England.

In 1935, nylon began production by DuPont. Later in 1938, Roy Plunkett at DuPont invented teflon. In 1954, Giulio Natta. discovered polypropylene. By 1954, Dow Chemical discovered expanded polystyrene.

In the 1960’s high density polyethylene bottles begin to replace glass for most applications. By 1965, Stephanie Kwolek at DuPont invented Kevlar.

Currently, 11% of household waste is plastic,

40% of which are plastic bottles. 73% of beach litter is plastic.

90% of floating ocean waste is plastic.

Plastic production has doubled in the last 50 years. 5% of plastic recycles.

50% of plastic is used just once. 

PET polyethylene terephthalate has become the material of choice for beverage bottles. PETG (glycolysis polyester) makes cards. PETF polyester film (Mylar) sees use to make videotape, packaging, photographic printing, x-ray film, floppy discs.  Plastics rank as the #43 Greatest Invention of All Time.

10) Cement/concrete.

Cement is made of limestone and clay and gypsum. Concrete recipe: cement, mostly lime (10-15%), water (15-20%) plus sand, gravel (60-75% aggregates), 5% air. CEMENT + WATER + AGGREGATE ROCK = CONCRETE. Cement is most calcium clay or calcium silicates. Lime (calcium oxide) mostly comes from burnt seashells in a kiln. In 6500 BCE Nabataea (Bedouin traders) in Syria and northern Jordan produced the first concrete. Later, concrete floors appeared in homes of the Danube river around 5600 BCE. Then in 3000 BCE Egypt, cement pyramid blocks made with gypsum and lime as mortar saw use in the pyramids. Also the Great Wall of China 3000 BCE used cement-like material in construction.

Above all, the highest quality cement of the ancient world was 300 BCE-476 AD pozzolana, This Roman cement cured underwater with volcanic ash (Mount Vesuvius, Bay of Naples) as the key ingredient. Also, pozzolana saw use for countless Roman structures including the Coliseum and the Pantheon In Rome. Further afar, pozzolana cement saw use in Roman harbors in Tuscany (Cosa) and Israel which survived intact for over 2000 years. Unfortunately, the Roman recipe was secret and disappeared with the fall of Rome in 476 AD. Surprisingly, animal fat, milk, and blood are thought to be special ingredients for different types of the Roman cement.

With more modern construction in 1825, the Erie Canal used cement. Later, Joseph Aspin of England in 1840 invented Portland cement in the UK.

Portland cement is made with limestone, gypsum, clay.

Joseph Monier, France invented steel reinforced concrete in 1867.

In addition, in 1889, the first concrete bridge began operation in San Francisco, Alvord Lake Bridge. By 1891, the first concrete street appeared in Bellefontaine, Ohio. In 1903, the first concrete high rise building, Ingalls Building, was built in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also by 1930, air entraining agents saw use with cement to resist damage from freezing and thawing. Later, in 1936, Hoover and Grand Coulee concrete dams appeared in USA. Then decorative concrete in the 1950s began development by Brad Bowman in California. In 1956, the Guggenheim Museum was built with reinforced concrete by Frank Lloyd Wright. Then in 1970s fiber reinforcement of concrete began. Later, concrete countertops appeared in the 1990s by Buddy Rhodes and Fu-Tung Cheng. Concrete engraving began production in 1990 by Darrel Adamson. Finally, polished concrete began use in 1999 by HTC a Swedish company.

Cement is the #1 used commodity after water in the world. Concrete is the #1 construction material used in the world.

In addition, 20 billion tons of cement production occurs yearly or 6 billion cubic meters.

Cement is the only building material resistant to both flames and water.

Modern construction uses concrete primarily for flooring and foundations.

(Pozzolanic) Cement is the best material for underwater construction lasting over 2000 years. 3 Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river in China is the largest cement structure in the world. World cement production has leveled off the last 5 years. 55% of world cement production is from China. Concrete produces 5% of the carbon emissions in the world.  Concrete/cement rank as the #47 Greatest Invention of All Time.

Greatest materials inventions

11) Aluminum.

Aluminum was first discovered in 1825 by Danish Hans Christian Orsted. Initially aluminum metal was
more expensive and more rare than gold. industrial production of aluminum began in 1856. The Bayer
process originated with Austrian chemist Carl Joseph Bayer in 1889 who improved aluminum production. Then in 1954, aluminum passed copper as the second most produced metal. Later in 1956, saw use of the first aluminum can.

Aluminum production now exceeds all non-ferrous metals combined. ​

The most common metal in the Earth’s crust is aluminum (ore).

Aluminum has about ⅓ the weight of steel.

Because of passivation with a thin oxidized layer, aluminum has no “rust corrosion” like steel. ​

Aluminum production has increased exponentially since 1960.

​Experts discuss now as to if we are currently in the “Aluminum Age”. Aluminum almost always sees use as an alloy even if the aluminum content is 99%. In aerospace history, the Wright brothers’ original 1903 airplane engine used aluminum parts for weight reduction.

A Boeing 747 contains at least 150,000 pounds of aluminum or 81% of the plane’s weight is aluminum.

Aluminum is one of the most green metals,
requiring 5% of energy to recycle compared to extraction of metal from ore.

Above all, Aluminum is the most recyclable metal.

Now, 75% of all aluminum is still in use due to recycling. Since 1995, the carbon
footprint of new aluminum production is down 25%, with recycling down 40%. Also, Australia is the
world’s leading producer of aluminum. ​

Aluminum foil is an unrivaled food barrier to moisture, air,
microorganisms, oxygen, and light.​

Aluminum salts are dyes and give rubies, emeralds,
and sapphires their color.

Aluminum use in 2018: 40% transportation, 20% packaging, 14% building, 9% electrical, 8% consumer durables, 7% machinery.

Pound for pound, aluminum absorbs twice
the crash energy of steel.

Aluminum has much superior thermal conductivity compared to steel
and see use more in radiators and air conditioners for this reason. Good electrical conductivity
of aluminum leads to aluminum use for most high voltage power lines. Stainless steel is
a relatively poor conductor but welds better than aluminum. Aluminum is increasingly replacing steel in automotive manufacturing. While aluminum is increasingly being replaced by carbon fiber composite in aircraft. Aluminum ranks as the #57 Greatest Invention of All Time.

12) Optical fiber.

Optical fibers are made of glass or plastic. They transmit light data over greater distances and higher bandwidth than electrical wires or cables. 1966 saw the first fiber optic transmission.

Advantages of optical fiber compared to wires:

1) Faster. Speed of light in fiber is far faster than electrons in wire.

2)Higher bandwidth. 60 Tbps in fiber versus 10 Tbps in wire.

3) Greater distance. Lower attenuation with fiber means repeaters appear every 50 km with fiber versus 5km with wire.

4) Less signal loss (total internal reflection) over distance .

5) Less electromagnetic interference and less problems with power surges or fluctuations. Fiber is far less affected by power failures.

6) Use with LASERs.

7) Fiber is more secure than wires, less easily tapped than wires.

8) Glass fibers are less susceptible to corrosion than copper wire cables.

9) Fiber cables weigh about 1/10 less than copper wire cables.

10) The lifespan of fiber is 40 years, much longer than with copper wires.

11) Fiber works well with wireless technologies.

Disadvantages of fiber: 1) New technology requires new expertise. 2) Copper is cheaper than fiber. 3) Copper has resale value. 4) Signals on fiber are unidirectional. Bidirectional connections require 2 lines with fiber. In 1970 ultrapure fiber optic glass invented by Corning. Surgical procedures use flexible fiber optic endoscopes and rigid arthroscopes.  Fiber optics rank as the #50 Greatest Invention of All Time.

13) Nail. ​

Bronze nails first date to 3400 BCE Egypt. Ancient Romans widely used
nails for construction. These iron nails were made individually by blacksmiths.
Machine made rectangular, tapered nails first appeared around 1600. Later, automated nail making
began around 1800 using rectangular tapered nail bodies. Then modern steel wire nail, produced from wire, began around 1900. Now, modern wire nails have a smooth cylindrical shape. Because of the
numerous historical phases of nail development, nail type can be used to help date when a building was
constructed. Galvanized nails have an outer layer of zinc applied to prevent rust.

12,000 nails see use in the construction of a 1,200 sq ft house.

Wooden houses on average contain about 25,000 nails.
The human body has enough iron to make one 3 inch nail. The nail ranks as the #64 Greatest Invention of All Time.

14) Screw/bolt.​

The screw was first conceived by Archimedes (250 BCE) in ancient Greece. The
screw worked to move water to drain the hull of a ship or irrigation. Large wooden screws later saw use as
an olive oil press and grape press for wine. Clothes pressing was with large screws. The first printing
presses (1460) used large screws based on a similar design for fruit presses. The screw thread shape more accurately represents a helix not a spiral. A spiral progressively enlarges with each revolution. Metal screws originated in the 1400’s. Metal screws and bolts are similarly shaped cylinders with a helical ridge (thread). Screws are typically pointed and work by engaging both materials to be fastened with the thread. The bolt is typically blunt tipped and fastens with a reverse threated nut.

The first screw factory opened in 1760

and failed. The first screw cutting lathe originated in 1770 by Englishman Jesse Ramsden. Later, in 1797,
a lathe allowed for mass production of screws from metal in England by Henry Maudslay.
More modern square drive screws began use in 1908 by Canadian P. L. Robertson. The Henry Phillips
screw head originated in 28 years later in 1936.

Compatible with automatic screw guns, the phillips head is the industry standard for assembly lines.

Handheld screwdriver originated around 1800.

A typical house contains about 7500 screws.

The USA produces 200 billion screws each year.

Materials fastened with screws or bolts include: wood, metal, plastic.

The screw ranks as the #65 Greatest Invention of All Time.

15) Welding.​

Welding is a fabrication process where 2 or 3 similar materials, usually metals, are
melted together with intense heat from flame or electricity causing metal fusion.

Welding is virtually the only practical way to fuse 2 metal
components with a joint made stronger than the base materials.

A filler metal in welding joins the bond at the joint to make the weld typically thicker and stronger than the base metals.

Prior to the mid-1800s, only forge welding by heating and hammering by blacksmiths was the only way to
join metals.

Soldering does not melt the base metal and is not welding. Welding can be by
flame from gas (chemical) or electric arc, electron beam, friction, or ultrasound. The blowtorch was invented in 1797 by the German August von Marquardt The gasoline or propane blowtorch in air is typically not hot enough for welding (less than 2000 C). In 1836 acetylene welding originated. In1881, Electric arc welding began. Over 90% of modern welding is arc welding. Arc welding uses electricity to produce sufficient heat to weld.

Edmond Fouche and Charles Picard from France invented oxy acetylene welding in 1903.

Oxy-acetylene (2 tank) welding occurs with a temperature of 3500 C. Generally, single tank flames will not weld steel or most metals.

Welding has replaced rivets for many applications.

By 1962 robot welding begins. Welding ranks as the #77 Greatest Invention of All Time.

16) Petroleum refining.

Products from the refinery of crude oil include: naphtha, diesel, gasoline, kerosene, asphalt base, jet fuel. Chinese were the first to refine crude oil in 50 AD. Arab chemists refined crude oil in the 800s. Islamic Spain was the first to refine crude oil in Europe in the 1100s. 1846, Abraham Gessner of Nova Scotia, Canada first produced kerosene from coal. In 1854, kerosene refining began by Ignacy Łukasiewicz in Krosno, Poland from a hand dug well. By 1856, first systematic oil refinery began operation in Ploiesti, Romania. In 1859, the first oil well produced in the US near Titusville, Pennsylvania by Edwin Drake.

The introduction of the internal combustion engine created a market for gasoline and the oil boom began.

Components of crude oil separate primarily by temperature: butane and propane gas at 20 C, gasoline (petrol) (45% of crude oil) at150 C, kerosene at 200 C, diesel at 300 C, fuel oil 3 at 70 C, asphalt, lubricating oil, wax at 400 C. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves of any country in the world.

Asphalt is 99% recyclable.

Diesel fumes are more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke. 50% of all oil serves the transportation industry. Crude oil is the “mother of all commodities” due to the use of petrochemicals for gasoline, synthetic fabrics, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Petroleum literally means “rock oil”.

One barrel of oil accounts for 19 gallons of gasoline, 9 gallons of diesel 4 gallons of jet fuel, 2 gallons of heating oil, and 7 gallons of other petrochemicals.

Fertilizers, plastics, car tires, ammonia, perfumes, and bubble gum originate from petrochemicals. In 2009, the USA imported 51% of the oil used. The USA has 4% of the world’s population and uses 25% of world oil. Driving miles in the USA is nearly 2X China and India combined. OPEC controls about 80% of world oil reserves.  Petroleum refining ranks as the #79 Greatest Invention of All Time.

17) ​ Sharp wedge – ax, chisel, knife, sword.

The Stone age dates from 250,00 BCE-3500 BCE. The hardest and sharpest objects are stone in this period.

The Bronze age was the era when bronze was the hardest and sharpest metal date from 3500 BCE-1200 BCE.

The Iron age was when steel was the hardest and strongest metal dates from 1200 BCE-500 BCE

The earliest steel weapons and tools date to 1800 BCE Anatolia (Turkey).

Steel is an alloy of iron with carbon (<2%).

High grade steel dates from 250 BCE when wootz steel smelted in crucibles in
southern India. Then the steel saw export to Damascus, Syria where forged “Damascus steel” originated. From 250 -1200 AD Bessemer-like steel production in China began and then only much later appeared in Europe in 1856. The 1700’s saw the first iron foundries in Great Britain. ​ World steel and stainless steel production has gone up linearly since 1950, like
copper. In 1856, Henry Bessemer devised the Bessemer Process:​ critical for large volume low cost high grade steel. The sharp wedge ranks as the #82 Greatest Invention of All Time.

18) Latex and vulcanized rubber

Commercial rubber comes from latex, a white, milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. Latex also comes from a variety of plants.

Latex represents a healing response to plant tissue injury.

In 1500 BCE, Olmec Mesoamerican culture uses sporting balls of rubber. Olmec means literally “rubber people”. By 1770 Joseph Priestly discovered that rubber removes pencil marks (eraser). Rubber literally means rubbing as an eraser of pencil markings. In 1820, rubber dipped shoes appeared. Rubber overshoes began selling wildly. Then in 1823, Charles Macintosh began to rubberize fabrics to create waterproof clothing. In 1827 Brazil first exported rubber. That same year, invented in 1827, the rubber hose proved versatile.

1844 Thomas Hancock and Charles Goodyear independently developed a process to vulcanize rubber. In 1846, the first inflatable rubber tire originated by RW Thompson. In 1876, England exported rubber seeds to Malaysia. By 1879, synthetic rubber appeared. In 1887John Dunlop invented an inflatable bicycle tire transforming the bicycle industry. By 1906, John Dunlop created the first inflatable automobile tire. In 1930 neoprene originated by DuPont and Wallace Carothers.

1930 German company IG Farben develops superior synthetic rubber styrene-butadiene (75% butadiene, 25% styrene copolymer) SBR. ASBR is the most important synthetic rubber.

Currently in 2020, 66% rubber is synthetic

(emulsion styrene-butadiene rubber (E-SBR) tires, 33% is natural rubber. Half of all rubber makes vehicle tires. Current car tires can last 80,000 miles. Latex paints are another important use of latex rubber. Erasers, balloons, condoms, gloves, gaskets, diaphragms.  Latex and vulcanized rubber rank as the #92 Greatest Invention of All Time.

19) Polyester.

1926 Wallace Carothers discovered alcohols and carboxyl acids when mixed created fibers. In 1939 PET polyethylene terephthalate appeared as a precursor to polyester (Terylene) by Britiish John Winfield and James Dickson. Later, DuPont purchased all the polyester rights. In 1950, Dacron polyester was first produced. Billed as a miracle fiber, Dacron polyester marketed as wrinkle free, durable, low maintenance fabric by DuPont. In 1952 Mylar appeared by DuPont. In 1958 Kodel polyester originated by Eastman products.

Advantages of polyester fabrics particularly for sportswear:

1) Durability , especially for blue collar work garments

2) Dry wickiing perspiration, especially suited for sportswear.

3) Fast drying, especially for sportswear

4) More stain resistant, especially for children’s clothes

5 ) Lighter weight especially for sportswear.

6) Wrinkle and shrinkage resistant again especially ideal for sportswear

7) Inexpensive

8) Easy care.

9) Versatile

10) 100% recyclable but the fiber does degrade with each recycle.

Disadvantages 1) less breathable 2) moderately flammable 3) Less biofriendly due to resistance to biodegradation. 4) Temperature sensitivity, Melts and scorches with printing. 5) More rough than cotton.  Polyester ranks as the #97 Greatest Invention of All Time.

20) Carbon – fiber/diamond/graphene

Carbon fiber is 5x stronger than steel, twice as stiff, and weighing less than steel or aluminum. Uses for carbon fiber composite include: tennis racquets, golf clubs, softball bats, hockey sticks, bicycle frames, bows and arrows, airplane parts (especially Boeing 787), wind turbine blades, and automotive frames (especially racing cars). Construction projects are increasingly using carbon fiber composites due to: high stiffness, high tensile strength, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance, and low thermal expansion.

The current Boeing 787 is 50% by weight carbon fiber composite.

The 787 is 20 % aluminum, and 15% titanium by weight. The surprising discovery of small diamonds in a meteorite craters led to speculation that synthetic diamonds were possible with heat and pressure.

Then in 1955, high temperature and high pressure synthetic diamonds originated at GE.

These diamonds were about 1/10 carat, which is an ideal size for industrial applications. Ever since 1955, GE dominated industrial diamond sales. By 1971, gem quality diamonds appeared at GE by seeding smaller diamonds. The early synthetic gem diamonds were about the cost of mining. In the 1970s, Soviet scientists created the cubic zirconium (CZ). More recently, chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method began as a small seed diamond to which carbon is deposited. The CVD gem diamonds now sell with natural diamonds in Hong Kong.

Chemical vapor deposition diamonds are half the cost of mined diamonds as of 2017.

In 1989, Industrial Distributors LTD began making diamonds usine CVD. By 2003, GE sold the diamonds division of the company. In 2002, the company renamed Element 6 after carbon. Element 6 has now become both a leading manufacturer and research company for synthetic diamonds. 

Graphene is a hexagonal lattice of pure carbon one atom layer thick.

In addition, graphene has the potential to do in the 21st century what plastics did to the 20th century. Also, graphene is an allotrope of carbon like graphite, charcoal, or diamond. Graphene was first described in 1962 by Hanns-Peter Boehm as a thin foil. Then rediscovered, isolated, and characterized in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester. Later, the 2010 Nobel prize in physics went to Geim and Novoselov for their work on graphene. Carbon is considered by some scientists a metalloid,

Graphene has extremely unusual properties (some metal-like):

1) 200X stronger than steel.

2) Far lighter than steel.

3) Superconductor of heat and electricity very efficiently, as such, could prolong battery life. The speed of electrical conduction is close to the speed of light like glass fiber optics, making conduction far faster than metal wires.

4) Diamagnetism. Graphene repels by a magnetic field causing it to levitate which is a rare material property

5) Bipolar transistor effect.

6) Flexibility (stretches 20% without breaking) more flexible than steel

7) Transparent transmitting 97% of light (clear glass windows transmit 85% of light)

Potential uses of graphene: 1) Barrier to water. 2) World’s thinnest light bulb or lighted smart clothing. 3) Room temperature superconductor (zero resistance to electricity flow). 4) Thermoacoustic sound generation. 5) Body armor with stacked graphene. 6) Filtering salt from seawater, removing about 85% of salt from seawater which is enough for most agricultural purposes, not drinking. 7) Smart paint which changes color when failing. 8) Batteries. 9) Wear resistant shoe soles and car tires. 10) Cancer cell detection. 11) Smoke detectors. 12) Composite plastics not unlike reinforced cement. Graphene reinforced composite plastics could be lighter, stronger, and safer. In 1985 Buckminster created C60 bucky balls which are nanocages of carbon atoms belonging to a group of materials called fullerenes. In 1991, carbon nanotubes production occurred with Sumio Iijima of NEC Japan.

21) Rivot

​The first rivet dates to 3000 BCE Egypt and was wooden, connecting handles to clay jars. In ancient Rome, rivets were common fasteners. By 750 AD, Viking longboats used wooden rivets in their construction. The rivet most common form is a permanent fastening metal device connecting metal to metal. The first factory which made metal rivets originated in France in 1836. Punched or drilled holes align with overlapping metal. The rivet placement is into the overlapping holes. The tail or far end of the rivet is then deformed locking the rivet permanently in place. Once applied, rivets resemble dumbbells and are highly resistant to shear forces. Hot rivets require placement when still glowing hot (just under melting temperature, 1100 C). The operator deforms the tail of the hot rivet, cooling expands the rivet securing the metal to metal bond.

The peak use of rivets was from 1840-1930. Welding and reinforced concrete led to a decline in the use of rivets. Use of nuts and bolts in the 1960s and 1970s led to further decline in rivets use.

Blind rivets originated in 1927 by Hamilton Neil Wylie and later improved in 1928 by George Tucker. A tell tale pop sound emits with the locking mechanism of the blind rivet creating the name, pop rivet.

Blind pop rivets were faster, easier, and simpler

to apply and did not require seeing the opposite surface. Airplanes contain aluminum plates with rivets. Also, bridges, ships, and skyscrapers contain steel with rivets.

Made from 18,038 pieces and 2.5 million rivets in 1889, the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris France is noteworthy for its rivets. In addition, the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco Bay built in 1937, contains over one million rivets. Finally, Levi Strauss blue jeans use rivets on the pockets for fixation. The rivot ranks as the 90th Greatest Invention of All Time.

Metal abundance/density in the Earth’s crust:

Silicon 28%, Aluminum 8.3%,Iron -50,000 ppm or 5.6%, Copper – 70 ppm, Lead – 16 ppm, Arsenic – 5 ppm, Tin – 2 ppm, Silver -0.1 ppm, Gold – .005 ppm