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 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 an integral part of our everyday lives. As of 2008, 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 the behavioral patterns of various materials and how they're made, with the goal of inventing new ones. Much of materials science research involves ceramics, metals, glasses, polymers, semiconductors and biomaterials. This makes materials engineers essential to aspects of our daily lives such as medicine, computer science, energy, consumer products, architecture and transportation. The importance of such work is truly remarkable.
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 potential applications. You might intend to develop a set of general engineering skills before pursuing a more intense engineering degree; maybe you're hoping to dive into the field of materials science with advanced study. Whatever your interests happen to be, this is a broad field of study, and there are many options to choose from when entering 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
Generally speaking, an associate in materials science engineering degree program is designed to help students build a basic understanding of the components of engineering technology. This can be 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 program is the first step for many students pursuing materials science and engineering careers. However, not all of these programs follow the same curriculum. Some programs focus on a specific segment of materials science and teach students about the applications of particular materials. Other programs are more general in nature, conducting an introduction to many different segments of materials science.
What does remain (fairly) constant is that students in these programs are expected to hone their communication and critical thinking skills, as well as general engineering concepts, mathematics, science and technology. 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.
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 cooperative opportunities (or "co-ops") 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 degree programs.
Earning 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 make an effort to stay in the loop about potential opportunities.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Materials Science Engineering?
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 should be able to offer guidance, suggestions and feedback to help a client's project succeed. In addition to possessing sophisticated knowledge of their field, successful materials consultants are strong communicators. They must be able to articulate ideas in a way that clients understand and find useful.
Manufacturing engineers are tasked with developing methods to improve and streamline manufacturing processes. This often involves designing new machines and production methods, so a background in materials science is especially useful for innovative approaches to manufacturing.
These professionals use new materials and combinations of existing materials to find practical applications for the manufacturing industry. They need strong technical skills and the ability to focus on the big picture of a project as well as the individual tasks required to complete it. In addition to a strong command of manufacturing and engineering knowledge, communication skills are also a necessity for becoming a successful manufacturing engineer.
Most manufacturing engineers begin careers with a bachelor's degree, and many choose to return to school to earn an advanced degree later in life.
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