The most significant advances in human civilization are marked by the progression of the materials that humans use. The Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age, which in turn gave way to the Iron Age. New materials disrupt the technologies of the time, improving life and the human condition.
Modern technologies can likewise be directly traced to innovations in the materials used to make them, as exemplified by the use of silicon in computer chips and state-of-the-art steels that underpin infrastructure. For centuries, however, materials and alloy design have relied on the use of a base, or principal, element, to which small fractions of other elements are added. Take steel, for instance, in which tiny amounts of carbon added to the principal element iron (Fe), lead to improved properties. When small amounts of other elements are added, the steel can be tailored for, say, enhanced corrosion resistance or improved strength.