The discovery of electrons happened more than a century ago. Research in the late 1800s by pioneering scientists/physicists showed that a cathode discharge (cathode rays) consists of streams of negatively electrified particles, now called electrons. One of the first applications of these high-energy beams was to melt refractory metals in a process patented by M. von Pirani in 1907, but not much else was done with this new-found phenomenon, and even EB melting technology didn't reach commercial importance until about 50 years ago. Since the 1950s though, electron-beam technology has made many tough materials processing jobs feasible, from melting to joining, coating, surface modification, and others (see "Electron-Beam Technology Makes Tough Metal-Processing Jobs Easy" in this issue on p 30).
While the author notes that EB technology has a bright future and will grow and continue to contribute in industrial processes, electron beams also will be instrumental in creating new materials. Electron beams are being used at the DOE Materials Science and Engineering Div. to characterize materials structure and composition including research on the arrangement and identity of atoms and molecules in materials; specifically the development of quantitative characterization techniques, theories, and models describing how atoms and molecules are arranged and the mechanisms by which the arrangements are created and evolve.