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The United States has long been regarded as the international top gun in materials science. But the post-cold war shrinkage of U.S. military spending-and the resulting loss of the Defense Department’s generous support for materials research-is rapidly changing the balance of power.

A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine says the United States remains among the leaders in most areas of materials science, but for some key materials, including composites, catalysts, polymers and biomaterials, its leadership is eroding. The report, called “International Benchmarking of U.S. Materials Science and Engineering Research,” found that the United States is particularly weak in synthesis and processing research, and that some of its major research facilities are underfunded and outdated.

Arden L. Bement, professor of materials and electrical engineering at Purdue University and chair of the panel, says, “A lot of other countries are beginning to challenge in some very critical areas.”

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