What Does it Mean to Study Materials Science Engineering?
The ability to manipulate, understand and innovatively use materials is an important measure of the sophistication of a civilization. Entire eras have been named for their most important materials: the Stone Age, the Ice Age, the Bronze Age. Our lives are enhanced and restricted by our relationship and ability to use materials effectively.
"Materials" is a general term that encompasses a great deal; in fact, examples of materials are found almost everywhere we look. Our clothing, our cars, our homes, our appliances, our toys--materials are absolutely an integral part of our everyday lives. Currently, there are more than 300,000 known materials. Materials can loosely be classified into broad categories, including metals, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, and composites.
Materials scientists and engineers study materials' behavioral patterns, how they're made, and the best way to develop new ones. Much of today's materials science research involves ceramics, metals, glasses, polymers, semiconductors, and biomaterials.
Just as innovative thinkers discovered that heating soft iron and immediately cooling it off would allow them to create farming tools and technology, modern-day materials engineers and scientists are constantly testing the potential of materials to improve life and advance modern technology. The importance of such work is truly remarkable.
The Future of Materials Science and Engineering
Without question, the new technologies that are developed and enhanced in the 21st century will continue to redefine the way we live. Advancements in medicine, computer science, energy, consumer products, architecture, and transportation are certainties. Materials scientists and materials engineers are essential to such advancement. Based on the research of these innovative thinkers, materials and their uses are evolving faster today than ever before. Increased efficiency and evolvement ultimately results in better products, made with new and improved materials.
The future of materials science has no limits--which ultimately means that job opportunities in this field are very promising in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Career Education in Materials Science Engineering
Degree programs in materials science and engineering encourage students to develop an in-depth knowledge of materials and their current and potential applications. This is a broad field of study, so you'll have many options to choose from when you are ready to settle on a specialty. You might intend to develop an initial set of general engineering skills before pursuing a more intense engineering degree; maybe you're hoping to dive into the important and exciting field of materials science with advanced study. Whatever your interests happen to be, a college education is an absolute requirement for the field.
Online Degrees in Materials Science and Engineering
Many materials science and engineering schools offer degree programs online, primarily at the master's level. This trend should grow as advanced technology becomes more readily available. Not only are accredited online universities becoming more common, they also boast solid reputations as an intelligent way to pursue an advanced education while continuing to work. Online students participate in Internet tutorials, web demonstrations, and interactive labs. Master's degree programs are the most common degree level offered online, as they are often geared towards working professionals who already have the basic lab experience of a bachelor's degree.
Certificate Programs in Materials Science
Materials science and engineering certificate programs can help current engineers gain a more focused knowledge of materials science and its relation to engineering. Online materials science engineering certificate programs are generally designed for existing materials scientists and engineers who have already obtained a certain level of education. Such programs encourage students to hone skills in a specific aspect of materials science, such as semiconductors or biomaterials.
Associate Degrees in Materials Science
Many students begin their careers in materials science with an educational background in engineering. An associate degree program can qualify you for entry-level opportunities in several engineering fields. Generally, an associate degree provides a foundation of knowledge and basic understanding of the components of engineering technology. This is an appealing way for students to develop important education skills and on-the-job experience before committing to the pursuit of a more intensive bachelor's degree program.
Bachelor of Science in Materials Engineering/Materials Science
A Bachelor of Science degree is the first step for many students pursuing materials science and engineering careers. Bachelor's degree programs in materials science and engineering vary. Some schools focus on a specific segment of materials science and teach students about the applications of particular materials. Other programs are more general in nature and provide students with an introduction to all of the segments of materials science. Both types of programs will also focus on general engineering concepts, mathematics, science, and technology.
Bachelor's degree programs are rigorous and challenging. Students will be expected to hone their communication and critical thinking skills in addition to learning the principles of materials engineering. The field of materials science is all about trial and error, and materials engineers and scientists should be able to effectively articulate ideas and proposals. Online materials engineering degree programs offer students a quality education over the Internet, making the pursuit of an engineering degree possible from just about anywhere.
Co-ops and Internships in Materials Engineering
A great way for materials science and engineering students to get started on a successful career path is to participate in co-operative opportunities and internships. Internships are usually offered full-time during the summer months or part-time during the school year. Co-ops are generally available as a semester-long opportunity that allows students to work full-time while earning credits towards their degrees.
Major materials science companies and engineering firms are always looking for the next big development in technology. So it's useful for companies to hire students who are educated in the most recent technological developments, and are free of any preconceptions formed by years of industry experience. It is also a great opportunity for students to gain work experience and develop their interests in specific fields at an early point their careers.
Getting an internship or co-op can be extremely competitive, so students hoping to pursue these types of experiences should earn high GPAs, participate in industry-related student organizations, and stay in the loop about potential internship placement opportunities.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Materials Science Engineering?
Just as the potential for advancement in materials science is limitless, so to are the career opportunities for engineers in this field. Not only will students have the opportunity to work in every facet of engineering, but they will also find their knowledge and skills in demand in most other industries as well.
A metallurgical engineer has a strong background in materials science and uses information gathered from studying metals to design, improve, and alter products. This type of engineering professional is valuable to most industries; metallurgical engineers find employment in many fields, depending on their interests and expertise. Often, metallurgical engineers work in teams, so communication skills and the ability to work with others is a key to enjoying and succeeding in this career.
A Bachelor of Science in materials science and engineering is usually required for securing employment as a metallurgical engineering professional. Additionally, experienced metallurgical engineers generally find master's degrees necessary to qualify for more advanced, higher-paying employment.
Materials Production Research
An engineer working in materials production research aims to create new materials. These professionals research and test materials instead of focusing on practical applications. Essentially, a materials scientist in this line of work continually thinks of new ways to test, manipulate, and control the behaviors and components of different materials. Materials scientists who perform this research generally work in laboratories funded by the government or private companies. This work involves a great deal of trial and error, so success in materials production research requires perseverance, dedication, and patience.
When a company or engineering firm is working on a new experiment, a materials scientist or a materials engineer may be consulted. Materials consultants are typically experts in one area of materials and are familiar with past experiments and theories relating to the hiring firm's proposed project.
Materials consultants should be able to offer guidance, suggestions, feedback, and anything else that may help a project succeed. In addition to possessing sophisticated knowledge of a particular field, successful materials consultants are strong communicators. They are able to articulate ideas in a way that clients understand and find useful.
Manufacturing engineers are involved with all components of the manufacturing process. Their job is to develop methods and procedures that will improve and streamline such processes. This often involves designing new machines and production methods, so a background in materials science is especially useful for innovative approaches to manufacturing. This field of engineering is a popular place of employment for materials scientists and engineers.
Manufacturing engineers constantly use new materials and combinations of existing materials to find practical applications for the manufacturing industry. Engineering professionals in this field have strong technical skills and educational background. Additionally, good manufacturing engineers have the ability to focus on the big picture of a project as well as the individual tasks required to complete it.
Most manufacturing engineers begin careers with a bachelor's degree and many choose to return to school to earn an advanced degree. In addition to a strong command of manufacturing and engineering knowledge, communication skills are also a necessity for becoming a successful manufacturing engineer.
Many patent attorneys find an educational background in materials science and engineering helpful. Those working in the technology field must have a proper understanding of the advancement of technology. Patent attorneys assist in securing the patent rights to any materials, theories, methods, or ideas a scientist or engineering firm might develop.
Materials Science Engineering Certification, Licensure and Associations
Professional Engineer (PE) Certification
In order to qualify for the Professional Engineers licensure, a candidate generally needs a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, a passing score on the state-administered exam, and four years of work experience.
More recent graduates have the option of dividing this licensure process into two segments. The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is often taken immediately after graduation, while the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam is taken after four years of work. Materials scientists and engineers generally need to take the metallurgical version of this exam. More information about PE and FE certification can be found at:
Materials Science and Engineering Professional Organizations
- The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society
- American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers
- American Society for Testing and Materials
- Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration
- The American Ceramic Society
- Association for Iron & Steel Technology
- ASM - The Materials Information Society