The discipline of materials science and engineering focuses on material behavior—to understand, improve, and even create new materials. Materials engineering is a key part of nearly all engineered products.
Materials are a necessity for all engineering applications. Materials science and engineering seeks to understand the fundamental physical origins of material behavior in order to optimize properties of existing materials through structure modification and processing, design and invent new and better materials, and understand why some materials unexpectedly fail.
Materials engineers work with a variety of materials, including metals and alloys; ceramics and glasses; polymers; electronic, magnetic, and optical materials; and composites. They also work with many other emerging materials and processes, such as nanomaterials like graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs); biomaterials like artificial tissue and surgical mesh; 3D printing materials; specialized sensors; and smart materials.
What Do Materials Engineers Do?
Materials scientists and engineers work at the forefront of technology, applying physics, chemistry, and biology to compose new products—many of which have the potential to reduce our environmental impact and greatly improve our quality of life.
These professionals have contributed to major scientific breakthroughs including:
- New materials that allow energy conversion for a cleaner environment
- Artificial skin for burn victims
- Nanotechnologies that make computers smaller, faster, and more economical
- Tough new composites that enable mountain bikers to climb higher and faster
- Microscopic silicon chips that rewire themselves to conform to users' needs
- Medical diagnostic equipment such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging
Materials engineers often work closely with engineers from the other disciplines and with chemists, physicists, and other physical scientists.
What Careers are There in Materials Science and Engineering?
Due to the importance of materials to the success of almost all engineered products, materials engineers have employment opportunities in a wide range of industries and in a variety of functions. For example, materials engineers are prominent within the automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, manufacturing, and defense industries, performing duties such as new material design, material substitution, material optimization, and material forensics (e.g., materials identification and failure analyses).
There are also a plethora of opportunities for careers within academia. Many materials scientists and engineers pursue advanced degrees and obtain research and teaching positions at postsecondary institutions.
Job titles for materials scientists and engineers include:
- Ceramic engineer
- Composites engineer
- Failure analysis engineer
- Materials engineer
- Metallurgical engineer
- Plastics engineer
- Polymer engineer
- Quality assurance engineer
- Reliability engineer
- Research engineer
- Semiconductor processing engineer
What Skills Do Materials Engineers Need?
Problem solving is the essence of engineering. With this at its core, materials engineering also requires strong skill sets in analytical thinking, math and the physical sciences, business, communication, leadership, teamwork, and project management.
A bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering or a related engineering field from an ABET-accredited institution is also a requirement for most entry-level positions.
What Tasks Do Materials Engineers Do?
On any given day, materials scientists and engineers may be asked to perform any number of tasks. Some examples include:
- Develop, process, and test materials
- Research material properties and structures
- Assess whether materials meet mechanical, electrical, and/or chemical requirements
- Select materials for specific products
- Discover new ways to use existing materials
- Determine causes of failures and find appropriate solutions
- Evaluate and reduce environmental impacts
- Analyze cost effectiveness
- Manage projects and teams
- Consult with other engineers and scientists
- Write proposals, budgets, and reports
How Much Do Materials Engineers Earn?
Similar to other engineering fields, materials engineers earn great salaries. Compared to other fields, materials engineers earn well above average throughout each stage of their careers. According to the United States Department of Labor, the mean salary for a materials engineer is $101,950, with the top ten percent earning close to $161,080. The mean entry-level salary is $68,136.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Materials Engineers, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/materials-engineers.htm
Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech
In the materials science and engineering (MSE) curriculum at Michigan Tech, you'll learn how processing affects a material's structure, how structure dictates the mix of properties that are characteristic of the material, and how each of these "tools" can be most effectively balanced for a given application. Learn how to design new materials, predict and simulate the results of your design, and then actually make and test the materials you design and create.
Michigan Tech has exceptional materials laboratories that allow you to process (i.e., make) materials, view and analyze the resulting structure, and then test and evaluate the material's properties. Combining great facilities with hands-on learning opportunities through senior design and Enterprise, you'll tackle open-ended problems that reflect the work you'll likely encounter on your first job. Plus, you can get involved with student organizations related to materials science and engineering so you can connect with other students who are just as passionate as you.
One of the best assets of MSE is its relatively small size compared to other engineering disciplines. Our size allows meaningful student involvement in hands-on laboratory activities, personal access to facilities, real participation in leading-edge projects, and close networking with peers, faculty and staff, alumni, and prospective employers.
Tomorrow needs engineers and scientists who understand materials in order to make them stronger, lighter, safer, greener, and more cost-effective. We're ready. Are you?
Our undergraduate materials engineering program is ABET Accredited. ABET accreditation is a significant achievement. We have worked hard to ensure that our program meets the quality standards set by the profession. And, because it requires comprehensive, periodic evaluations, ABET accreditation demonstrates our continuing commitment to the quality of our program—both now and in the future.
Internships, Co-ops, and Full-Time Jobs
Most of our students have the opportunity to accept summer internships with major employers. Co-op positions are also available, where you can receive college credit for academic year assignments in industry. Companies recruit for these, and for full-time jobs, at Michigan Tech's annual Career Fairs.
Prepare for Graduate Study
Our undergraduate program in materials engineering prepares you for advanced study in the field. Continue your education at Michigan Tech by pursuing MS and/or PhD degree programs in materials science and engineering or a related field. Looking to accelerate the process? Michigan Tech's materials science and engineering accelerated master's program allows you to complete your master's in just two additional semesters beyond your bachelor's, saving you both time and money.