Over the last 100 years, new classes of ceramics, not necessarily clay-based, have been developed. These advanced ceramics can accomplish things that are beyond the capability of traditional ceramics. This timeline looks at the history of ceramics and the advancements in engineering and medical frontiers made using ceramics.

1902 - Synthetic rubies

French scientist Professor Verneuil produces synthetic rubies by carefully heating alumina powder with some chromium oxide at a very high temperature. This discovery sparks an interest in artificial gemstone production. The era of advanced ceramics is underway.

1903 - Automotive spark plugs

Internal combustion engines need a simple way to ignite the petrol/air mixture injected into the cylinders. The spark plug using a ceramic electrical insulator is key to meeting this need. Porcelain proves to be unreliable, so research begins to find a better material.

1920 - Improved spark plug design

More reliable spark plug electrical insulators made of alumina-enriched porcelain are in production. American company AC Spark Plug is producing 2 million spark plugs per year to meet the demands of the burgeoning automobile and aviation industries.

1936 - High-purity low-cost alumina

Scientists discover a cost-effective method for producing high-purity alumina for use in the production of a wide range of advanced ceramic materials. This discovery allows alumina to be described as the ‘pioneer of advanced ceramics’.

1938 - Fibreglass

American scientist Russell Games Slayter invents fibreglass. Originally developed as an insulation material, it is now used in composite form in a multitude of everyday applications – skateboards, surf boards, tennis racquets, car bodies, swimming pools and boat hulls.
 

1945 - Ceramic magnets

Jacobus Louis Snoek (Phillips Research Laboratories) produces ‘soft’ ferrite for use in ceramic magnets. Today, ceramic magnets range from simple fridge magnets to electronic systems for car power accessories, audio speakers, computers and telecommunication equipment.

1959 - Silicon chip

Working independently, American electronics research engineers Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce invent the integrated circuit, built into a tiny slice of semiconductor silicon. Today, these chips are called microprocessors and are made from advanced ceramics.

1969 - Bioceramics

American ceramics engineer Larry Hench develops a ceramic glass that bonds with bone. A specialised form of connective tissue. The presence of the mineral hydroxyapatite helps to give bone its strength and density. and tissue better than any previous material. Materials scientists and medical researchers join forces to investigate further the potential use of ceramics as surgical implants.

1982 - Space shuttle blasts off

On 11 November, space shuttle Columbia blasts off from the Kennedy Space Centre on the first operational space shuttle flight. Over 24,000 specially designed silica ceramic heat insulation tiles are used to cope with the tremendous heat generated on re-entry.

1988 - Superconducting ceramics

DSIR scientists Dr Jeff Tallon and Dr Bob Buckley discover a high temperature superconducting ceramic material. They coin the name ‘2223’ for the combined metal oxide ceramic to indicate the proportions of bismuth, strontium, calcium and copper present.

1995 - One-step O-Sialon production process

Dr Ian Brown, heading a team at IRL in Wellington, discovers a one-step process for making the advanced ceramic known as O-Sialon. It has exceptional thermal resistance properties, is practically indestructible and can be readily manufactured and fabricated.

2001 - HTS wire production

American Superconductor Corporation is producing 400km of high-temperature superconductor (HTS) wire per year. A new factory is later completed, which at full capacity, has the capability to produce 20,000km of wire per year.

Nature of science

The time lag between the discovery of new science knowledge, its technological application and the marketing of products using the technology is often in the tens of years rather than just years.

    Published 9 April 2010, Updated 22 April 2014