In this introductory paper to the Royal Society Discussion Meeting, Marangoni and interfacial phenomena in materials processing, we present first the historical background to the general phenomenon of capillary gradient–driven flows, or ‘Marangoni’ flows. The many early observations in organic and inorganic liquids reflect the intense scientific curiosity surrounding this and other capillarity–induced phenomena. However, only in recent decades has the significance of this effect in various industrial technologies been appreciated. In this volume, we have deliberately focused on Marangoni observations relevant to the procedures and technologies involved in the production and processing of materials. The papers collected here demonstrate a clear significance of Marangoni flows in a variety of processes.