Preceramic polymers were proposed over 30 years ago as precursors for the fabrication of mainly Si-based advanced ceramics, generally denoted as polymer-derived ceramics (PDCs). The polymer to ceramic transformation process enabled significant technological breakthroughs in ceramic science and technology, such as the development of ceramic fibers, coatings, or ceramics stable at ultrahigh temperatures (up to 2000°C) with respect to decomposition, crystallization, phase separation, and creep. In recent years, several important advances have been achieved such as the discovery of a variety of functional properties associated with PDCs. Moreover, novel insights into their structure at the nanoscale level have contributed to the fundamental understanding of the various useful and unique features of PDCs related to their high chemical durability or high creep resistance or semiconducting behavior. From the processing point of view, preceramic polymers have been used as reactive binders to produce technical ceramics, they have been manipulated to allow for the formation of ordered pores in the meso-range, they have been tested for joining advanced ceramic components, and have been processed into bulk or macroporous components. Consequently, possible fields of applications of PDCs have been extended significantly by the recent research and development activities. Several key engineering fields suitable for application of PDCs include high-temperature-resistant materials (energy materials, automotive, aerospace, etc.), hard materials, chemical engineering (catalyst support, food- and biotechnology, etc.), or functional materials in electrical engineering as well as in micro/nanoelectronics. The science and technological development of PDCs are highly interdisciplinary, at the forefront of micro- and nanoscience and technology, with expertise provided by chemists, physicists, mineralogists, and materials scientists, and engineers. Moreover, several specialized industries have already commercialized components based on PDCs, and the production and availability of the precursors used has dramatically increased over the past few years. In this feature article, we highlight the following scientific issues related to advanced PDCs research: (1) General synthesis procedures to produce silicon-based preceramic polymers.
(2) Special microstructural features of PDCs.
(3) Unusual materials properties of PDCs, that are related to their unique nanosized microstructure that makes preceramic polymers of great and topical interest to researchers across a wide spectrum of disciplines.
(4) Processing strategies to fabricate ceramic components from preceramic polymers.
(5) Discussion and presentation of several examples of possible real-life applications that take advantage of the special characteristics of preceramic polymers. Note: In the past, a wide range of specialized international symposia have been devoted to PDCs, in particular organized by the American Ceramic Society, the European Materials Society, and the Materials Research Society. Most of the reviews available on PDCs are either not up to date or deal with only a subset of preceramic polymers and ceramics (e.g., silazanes to produce SiCN-based ceramics). Thus, this review is focused on a large number of novel data and developments, and contains materials from the literature but also from sources that are not widely available.