Career in Materials Science and Engineering

What is Material Science and Engineering all about? What are the job opportunities for students?

October 15, 2022 01:57 pm | Updated 05:21 pm IST

Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is where challenges are solved through the creation of new and better materials.

Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is where challenges are solved through the creation of new and better materials. | Photo Credit: Freepik

Everything we use is made of a material. The paper (or screen) on which you are reading this article, your clothes, and electrical devices, the building you are in, and even you, are made from different types of materials. We live in a ‘material world’.

Many of us take materials for granted, but each one has been developed and selected to provide the best performance and cost for the job they are used for. Since the Stone Age, humanity has developed materials through the different ages to where we are now in the Molecular Age. Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is where challenges are solved through the creation of new and better materials.

The subject is an interdisciplinary Engineering discipline that uses scientific principles from Physics, Chemistry, and Biology to understand, design, discover, and develop new and better material. Incredibly fast-developing and always at the cutting edge of technology, it is ideal for anyone driven by scientific curiosity, who relishes problem-solving and enjoys interdisciplinary work.

There are many challenges to solve. Higher-performing materials for batteries are needed for next-generation energy storage, improved lightweight composites for more efficient transportation, and new electrical and optical materials to continue the development of digital technologies. Making materials sustainable is also a high priority. Globally, governments recognise that advances in materials are needed to meet energy, climate, and environmental goals. Research is underway into the removal of rare earth and toxic elements from current materials, development of lower carbon dioxide-generating building materials, improved medicine and drug delivery, materials for nuclear waste management, making alternatives to plastics and more. We can also take inspiration from Nature, which provides a rich selection of sustainable, high-performing materials to try and copy. Like the stronger-than-steel silk that spiders spin to hard durable materials such as abalone shells.

What it is about

A student will learn how different classes of materials — including ceramic, composite, metals, nanomaterials, and polymers — behave. This includes understanding the unique properties of each class and the fundamental scientific reasons of why they occur. Processing is also a large part of the subject; learning, for example, the benefits and challenges of using additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing) versus a typical sintering or casting method. A core concept is how to characterise materials. By linking the material structure, properties, processing, and performance together, one learns how to elicit the properties and performance needed for the required applications at the largest scales. This could involve experimental or modelling work and work with atoms to aircraft.

With links between MSE courses, professional bodies, and industry being strong, see if the course is accredited by bodies such as the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). This means it is recognised professionally. Once you have gained the relevant experience, the process of professional registration as an Incorporated (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng) is possible. Many courses also have direct links with local and international manufacturers, which is very important. As such, MSE graduates are in high demand and a crucial part of engineering teams. This is why they find employment in a wide range of industries, including power and telecommunications, aerospace, construction, biomedical, energy, healthcare, automotive and sustainable development. An MSE student can work anywhere from small and medium enterprises to start-ups and big businesses. Like other science and engineering disciplines, the transferable skills and problem-solving that are integral to the course allow students to branch out into careers in banking, management and education or to embrace it more by continuing in academia.

The writer is a Senior Lecturer in Materials Science at the University of Sheffield, the U.K.

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