One Great Idea by Lukas Bichler
About the series
About the author
Lukas Bichler is an associate professor in the School of Engineering at UBC Okanagan.
The epochs of human evolution can be directly linked to the materials available to mankind. Over three million years ago, the use of stone tools ushered in the Stone Age. About 3,500 years BC, humans found ways to dig-up copper-rich minerals from the Earth and process them with a small amount of tin. The resulting material, called bronze, proved to be extremely useful for tools, hunting, and even regular household items. As a result, the Bronze Age began. However, in comparison to the Stone Age, the Bronze Age lasted only a short period of time, because by ~500 BC, mankind discovered iron, which enabled production of superior tools as well as mass-production of commonplace items (e.g., cast iron pottery). Interestingly, the Iron Age period lasted even a relatively shorter period of time, because “alchemists” found new elements, materials and new ways to process them. As a result, the pace of technology development continues to accelerate with the availability of new materials.
One may wonder what “Age” historians of the future will call our present times. In the past decades, we have seen a revolution in computing technology due to the ability to fabricate silicon chips. Modern TV screens with OLED displays have nanomaterials with unique optical and electrical properties. Many present day researchers see graphene as the game-changer material of the near future, where graphene could make technologies currently beyond our reach a reality.
Realizing the importance of materials in every single facet of our modern society, I have established at UBC some of the most advanced material processing laboratories, which enable me to fabricate materials that currently do not exist freely in nature. This capability allows my research team to seek out the most promising technologies for the next generation of nuclear power reactors, advanced semiconductor materials for supercomputers, and ultralight electric cars of the future. My team will then work on the development of critical materials to bring these technologies closer to reality.