Scientific Research: Opening the Door to the Future
Chapter 4 Domestic and Overseas Trends in Scientific Research
Section 2: Trends in Individual Research Fields
7. Structural and Functional Engineering
Both basic and applied research in structural and functional engineering focuses on artificial objects, such as mechanical products or structures. Three common characteristics span this entire area:
(i) Research focuses on miniaturization, as typified by micromachines. Considerable research activity is being done in areas like microprocessing, microscopic mechanical structures, microlevel materials, friction, heat, and fluidity.
(ii) Awareness of the global environment and global problems is reflected in research relating to the design and production of artificial objects, resource recycling, and the efficient utilization of energy.
(iii) Computational mechanics is being developed into a sophisticated and comprehensive analysis tool for fields like structural mechanics, fluid mechanics, and thermal engineering.
Technological advances, including improvements in computer capabilities and the development of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), have opened the way for research into atomic-level constituent analysis and the modification of the structure and form of materials at the nanometer (a billionth of a meter) level. Such research is relevant to designing materials and analyzing their physical properties.
Research trends are also being influenced by the development of intelligence and information technology. New research tools, such as artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, fractals, neural networking, and genetic algorithms, are helping to advance research in areas like advanced control technology for devices and systems, intelligent robots, and intelligent computer-aided design (CAD). Moreover, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake has brought renewed awareness of the importance of seismic engineering and earthquake-resistant engineering, leading to an upsurge of activity in these fields.
Future trends are likely to take two directions:
(i) Research will probably focus on achieving greater precision in methods and knowledge systems. Key research areas will include microstructural materials at the subnanometer level, design and processing technology, device control, and micromachines. Research in computational mechanics will be based on increasingly precise models.
(ii) The direction of research is also likely to be influenced by society's demands. Areas focusing on the needs of the welfare society will include people-friendly intelligent machines and brain engineering. Research will also focus on things like design, production, maintenance, and recycling, as well as overall systems, taking into account artificial environments and public access to knowledge. Because of the growing environmental and social significance of engineering and technology relating to artificial objects, it will probably be necessary to build basic research fields around new concepts that transcend traditional engineering fields.