Julia Bursten (Kentucky): "The Middle-Out Approach To Materials Classification"


Location: 107 O'Shaughnessy Hall (View on map )

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Title: The Middle-Out Approach To Materials Classification

Speaker: Julia Bursten, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky

Abstract: (collaborative project with Robert Batterman)

Philosophical analyses of scientific classification often begin—and too often end—with the inheritance of the natural kinds debates. This framework links discussions of kinds to discussions of laws of nature, and often imports the 20th century’s clumsily logic-oriented characterization of those laws. 

We propose an alternative approach. In our view, classification is an epistemic activity that supports a wide variety of scientific projects including modeling, explaining, and engineering. In the physical sciences, classification is a matter of appropriately connecting structures to properties, which is reflected in chemistry and materials science’s heavy uses of a heuristic called the structure–property paradigm and in materials classification charts such as Ashby diagrams. This naturally raises the questions: What counts as structure? And what counts as properties? We argue that at least in materials classification, structure is best understood from the middle out, via attention to the mesoscale representative volume elements that play essential roles in materials modeling.