Materials engineers create, test and evaluate known and new materials for specialized industry and manufacturing applications. Prospective students can train to become materials engineers by pursuing the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy in Materials Science and Engineering. Programs such as these allow students to explore material mechanics, semiconductors and mechanical metallurgy. Advanced-level programs often culminate with thesis or dissertation projects. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for most material engineering positions, while a graduate degree might lead to leadership roles or work as as a college or university instructor.
Bachelor's Degree in Materials Science and Engineering
Undergraduate students interested in materials engineering can earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Materials Science and Engineering or a Bachelor of Materials Science and Engineering (B.Mat.S.E.). These programs explore the mechanical, chemical, electrical, magnetic and optical properties and applications of various materials. Types of materials studied are ceramics, polymers, metals and alloys, semiconductors and composites. Students learn about the structures and responses of different materials to evaluate product performance and minimize size, weight and cost.
Entering students must have a high school diploma or GED. Applicants should submit their SAT or ACT scores. The four-year B.S. degree program in materials science and engineering requires an in-depth understanding of physical sciences and mathematics. Advanced high school courses in these subjects are recommended.
Key mathematics courses include calculus, probability and statistics, linear algebra and differential equations. In addition to materials science courses, students take physics, chemistry, biology and organic chemistry. Some materials engineering classes are:
- Structural characterization
- Analytical materials characterization
- Mechanical behavior of materials
- Deformable body mechanics
- Composite materials mechanics
- Transport and kinetics
Master's Degree in Materials Science and Engineering
Graduate students of materials engineering are trained for innovative research. Most Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering students complete their degree in two years. Students choose a thesis option or a comprehensive examination option to complete their master's program.
Applicants must submit scores to the GRE. Students should have a Bachelor of Science in physics and engineering sciences, or another relevant area such as astronomy and biochemistry. Undergraduate study should include calculus, physics and chemistry.
In addition to core materials courses, students may explore chemical, environmental, electrical or mechanical engineering. Materials engineering courses might include:
- Nanostructure characterization
- Materials thermodynamics
- Crystal structure
- Materials synthesis
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Doctorate in Materials Science and Engineering
The terminal degree in materials engineering is the Doctor of Philosophy in Material Science and Engineering. Without a master's degree, the doctorate program can be completed in five years. With an M.S. in materials science and engineering, that time shortens to three years. Some programs offer funding and teacher's assistant positions to doctorate students. Students complete a dissertation. Areas of research specialization are electronic materials, metals and alloys, micromaterials and nanomaterials, polymers and composites, surfaces and interfaces, ceramics and thin films.
Students must have a bachelor's degree in a field related to materials science and engineering. Although a master's degree is not required to enter the doctorate program, it may provide applicants with an advantage. Prospective students should take the GRE. Proficiency in mathematics, engineering and physical sciences is necessary for the Ph.D. student. Some programs require a qualifying exam on materials science and engineering, thermodynamics and materials structures.
In addition to a number of core materials science courses, students receive research guidance and select electives supporting their area of specialty. Core courses include:
- Materials thermodynamics
- Mechanical metallurgy
- Special problems in materials science
Graduates of the Master of Science programs may seek careers in computing and electronics, nanotechnology, biomedical engineering and the automotive and aerospace industries. Job titles include:
- Materials engineer
- Manufacturing engineer
- Process engineer
- Research engineer
- Materials scientist
While many careers in materials engineering only require a bachelor's degree, some jobs require the extensive research experience and specialization of a graduate degree. Doctorate students are frequently trained in micromechanics and nanomechanics for the investigation and production of smart materials and nano-scale materials. Expert positions appropriate for a graduate with a Ph.D. include:
- Consulting engineer
- Materials researcher
Employment and salary outlook
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in materials engineering may be employed in the energy, medical technology, chemical, automotive or electronics industries. Students may also be prepared for careers in research, technical management, teaching or consulting. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), materials engineers are expected to see a little to no change in employment from 2014-2024. These professionals reportedly earned a median salary of $91,310 in May 2015. Those who earned the highest wages worked in the mining industry.
Graduates of the bachelor's degree programs can continue their education with a master's degree or an engineer's degree in materials engineering. Some schools allow students with a baccalaureate degree to enter a doctorate materials engineering program without first earning a master's degree.
A bachelors degree in materials science and engineering prepares students for entry level employment by teaching student of the different properties of various materials, such as ceramics, polymers and alloys. Management and academic positions are available to those who go on to earn a master's degree of Ph.D. in the field.