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Materials Scientist: Employment Info & Career Requirements

Materials scientists apply their understanding of metals, ceramics, polymers, composites and electronic materials to develop new products and enhance existing ones. Materials science is a hybrid of biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Read on to further explore this profession.

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Career Definition for a Materials Scientist

Materials scientists have developed composite materials on automobiles that decrease wind resistance, polymers for laptops and biomaterials that have resulted in new fabrics on the fashion runway. Scientists achieve this by relating the molecular structure of an existing material to the properties they want it to have. Materials scientists typically specialize within a narrow discipline such as metals, ceramics, polymers, composites, semiconductors, biomaterials or nanotechnology. They work closely with engineers and processing specialists to ensure their science translates into reality, according to the American Chemical Society.

Education Bachelor's degree
Job Skills Analytical skill, mathematics, organization, problem solving
Median Salary (2015)* $91,000 (all materials scientists)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (all materials scientists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

The relatively new field of materials science is fundamentally rooted in chemistry. However, it draws from applied functions of biology, physics and engineering, as well. Those aspiring to be materials scientists must have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree, preferably in materials science. However, because the number of dedicated materials science programs is still small, many students choose to pursue degrees in one of the related sciences.

Additionally, students should take the requisite courses to become skilled at computer modeling, which is an integral part of research and development today. Undergraduates are encouraged to gain broad scientific knowledge, which will provide more flexibility upon graduation. Most employers provide new hires with additional training specific to their sector.

Required Skills

While materials scientists still spend the majority of their time working independently in laboratories, the interdisciplinary nature of materials science also requires the ability to collaborate with professionals across many fields. Research and development can be a frustrating and disappointing process, so perseverance, curiosity and an unrelenting pursuit of discovery are essential.

Career and Economic Outlook

Demand for materials scientists in general was expected to grow slower than the average, with a 3% increase from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Median annual earnings of materials scientists in May 2015 were about $91,000, according to the BLS, although salaries vary depending upon industry, sector and education.

Alternate Career Options

Check out occupations with duties similar to materials scientists below.

Materials Engineer

By earning a bachelor's degree in engineering or materials science, in addition to gaining some practical experience, these engineers seek jobs where they can develop and test materials for use in the creation of new products. Little or no change was projected by the BLS in the number of available positions from 2014-2024. As of 2015, these professionals earned an annual median salary of $91,310, per the BLS.

Chemical Engineer

These engineers design, test and supervise the equipment and methods used in manufacturing. Along with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, practical experience in this field is a benefit to securing employment. The BLS expected a slower than average increase in demand for chemical engineers, with 2% growth predicted from 2014-2024. The BLS also reported an annual median wage of $97,360 for these professionals in 2015.

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