Materials Science and Engineering Overview

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Materials Science and Engineering Overview
                The Field - Preparation - Day In The Life - Earnings -
                     Employment - Industries - Development -
                 Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations
Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is a field of
engineering that encompasses the spectrum of materials types
and how to use them in manufacturing. Materials span the
range: metals, ceramics, polymers (plastics), semiconductors,
and combinations of materials called composites. We live in a
world that is both dependent upon and limited by materials.
Everything we see and use is made of materials: cars,
airplanes, computers, refrigerators, microwave ovens, TVs,
dishes, silverware, athletic equipment of all types, and even
biomedical devices such as replacement joints and limbs. All of these require materials
specifically tailored for their application. Specific properties are required that result from
carefully selecting the materials and from controlling the manufacturing processes used to
convert the basic materials into the final engineered product. Exciting new product
developments frequently are possible only through new materials and/or processing. New
materials technologies developed through engineering and science will continue to make
startling changes in our lives in the 21st century, and people in Materials Science and
Engineering will continue to be key in these changes and advances. These engineers deal with
the science and technology of producing materials that have properties and shapes suitable for
practical use. Activities of these engineers range from primary materials production, including
recycling, through the design and development of new materials to the reliable and economical
manufacturing for the final product. Such activities are found commonly in industries such as
aerospace, transportation, electronics, energy conversion, and biomedical systems. The future
will bring ever-increasing challenges and opportunities for new materials and better
processing. Materials are evolving faster today than at any time in history. New and improved
materials are an "underpinning technology" - one which can stimulate innovation and product
improvement. High quality products result from improved processing and more emphasis will
be placed on reclaiming and recycling. For these many reasons, most surveys name the
materials field as one of the careers with excellent future opportunities.

The Field
CD-ROMs, like everything around us, are made of materials. So are dessert plates,
basketballs, car engines, telephones, and audiocassettes. Therefore the work done under the
heading of Materials Science Engineering has an unprecedented impact on our quality of life.
Although the field deals with materials, it encompasses an incredible diversity of topics and
problems constituting the four elements of the field -- processing, structure, properties, and
    "Materials Science and Engineering Overview" - Sloan Career Cornerstone Center (
                Some resources are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
                           and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.   Page 1 of 13
History is measured by innovations in materials. Developments in metals like iron and bronze
enabled advances in civilization thousands of years ago, a synergy which continues today in
the fiber optics that have created the World Wide Web and in the development of biomaterials
that mimic living tissue. As you explore the field it may be useful to become familiar with some
generic categories of materials.
       Metals are materials that are normally combinations of "metallic elements". These
       elements, when combined, usually have electrons that are non-localized and as a
       consequence have generic types of properties. Metals usually are good conductors of
       heat and electricity. They are also quite strong but deformable and tend to have a
       lustrous look when polished.
       Ceramics are generally compounds between metallic and nonmetallic elements and
       include such compounds as oxides, nitrides, and carbides. Typically they are insulating
       and resistant to high temperatures and harsh environments.
       Plastics, also known as polymers, are generally organic compounds based upon carbon
       and hydrogen. They are very large molecular structures. Usually they are low density
       and are not stable at high temperatures.
       Semiconductors have electrical properties intermediate between metallic conductors
       and ceramic insulators. Electrical properties are strongly dependent upon small
       amounts of impurities.
       Composites consist of more than one material type. Fiberglass, a combination of glass
       and a polymer, is an example. Concrete and plywood are other familiar composites.
       Many new combinations include ceramic fibers in metal or polymer matrix.

Processing refers to the way in which a material is achieved. Advances in technology have
made it possible to create a material atomic layer by atomic layer. There are four general
categories which may be useful to know: solidification processing, powder processing,
deposition processing, and deformation processing.
       Solidification Processing
       Most metals are formed by creating an alloy in the molten state, where it is relatively
       easy to mix the components. This process is also utilized for glasses and some
       polymers. Once the proper temperature and composition have been achieved, the melt
       is cast. Castings can be divided into two types, depending on the subsequent
       processing steps. The first type is shape casting, which takes advantage of the fluidity
       of liquid metal to form complex shapes directly. Because of the complexity of their part
       geometries, these castings generally cannot be worked mechanically to a significant
       degree. Therefore any changes in microstructure or properties must either be achieved
       first during solidification or through subsequent heat treatments.

    "Materials Science and Engineering Overview" - Sloan Career Cornerstone Center (
                Some resources are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
                           and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.   Page 2 of 13
       Powder Processing
       Powder processing involves consolidation, or packing, of particulate to form a `green
       body'. Densification follows, usually by sintering. There are two basic methods of
       consolidating powders: either dry powder can be compacted in a die, a process known
       as dry-pressing, or the particles can be suspended in a liquid and then filtered against
       the walls of a porous mold in a process known as slip-casting or filter pressing. Bulk
       ceramics are usually processed in powder form since their high melting points and low
       formability prohibit other types of processing. Metals and polymers can also be
       processed from powders.

       Deposition Processing
       Deposition processing modifies a surface chemically, usually by depositing a chemical
       vapor or ions onto a surface. It is used in semiconductor processing and for decorative
       or protective coatings. Vapor source methods require a vacuum to transport the
       gaseous source of atoms to the surface for deposition. Common vapor sources are
       thermal evaporation (similar to boiling water to create steam), sputtering (using
       energetic ions to bombard a source and create the gas state), or laser light (ablates, or
       removes, atoms from surface to create the gaseous state). Other sources use carrier
       media such as electrochemical mixtures (ions in a solution transported by an electrical
       field to the surface for depositions) or spray coating (ions or small particles transported
       by gases, liquids, and/or electrical field).

       Deformation Processing
       One of the most common processes is the deformation of a solid to create a desired
       shape. A large force is generally used to accomplish the deformation, and many
       techniques heat the material in order to reduce the force necessary to deform it.
       Sometimes a mold is used to define the shape. Forging, an old method that heated the
       metal and deformed the metal by hammer blows is still used today, albeit with multi-ton
       hammers. Rolling to reduce the thickness of a plate is another common process. Some
       glasses when heated can be formed with tools or molds. Other common methods, like
       drilling to make holes, or milling, are machining versions of the deformation process.

Structure refers to the arrangement of a material's components from an atomic to a macro
scale. Understanding the structure of a substance is key to understanding the state or
condition of a material, information which is then correlated with the processing of the material
in tandem with its properties. Understanding these relationships is an intrinsic part of materials
science engineering, as it allows engineers to manipulate the properties of a material.

Does a material need to be strong and heat-resistant, yet lightweight? Whether you're talking
about a fork or the space shuttle, products have specific requirements which necessitate the
use of materials with unique properties. Materials engineers must frequently reconcile the
desired properties of a material with its structural state to ensure compatibility with its selected
processing. Typical properties of interest may be classified into:

       Mechanical Properties: Tensile strength, fracture toughness, fatigue strength, creep
       strength, hardness

    "Materials Science and Engineering Overview" - Sloan Career Cornerstone Center (
                Some resources are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
                           and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.   Page 3 of 13
       Electrical Properties: Conductivity or resistivity, ionic conductivity, semiconductor
       conductivity (mobility of holes and electrons)

       Magnetic Properties: Magnetic susceptibility, Curie Temperature, Neel Temperature,
       saturation magnetization

       Optical and Dielectric Properties: Polarization, capacitance, permittivity, refractive
       index, absorption

       Thermal Properties: Coefficient of thermal expansion, heat capacity, thermal

       Environmental Related Properties: Corrosion behavior, wear behavior

The evaluation of performance is an integral part of the field. The analysis of failed products is
often used to obtain feedback on processing and its control as well as to assist in the initial
selection of the material and in the stages of processing. Testing also ensures that the product
meets performance requirements. In many products the control of its processing is closely
associated with some property test and/or a structural characterization.

Preparation for a career in materials engineering can begin as early as
high school, and need not be limited to a course of `materials' study.
There are many kinds of programs, degrees, and disciplines that will
enable you to pursue a career in the field.

It is highly recommended that while in high school you take the
maximum amount of college preparatory mathematics, laboratory
sciences, and English offered. If choices are possible, those courses
highly dependent upon knowledge and reasoning should take
precedence over courses in which the emphasis is on manual skill.
Students should try to take all the physical sciences and mathematics
courses offered at their school. In addition, students should take
advantage of all available opportunities to develop their communication
skills. Study of a language other than English is desirable. Talk to your guidance counselor
about requirements at the university of your choice

College Programs
Most major universities have academic BS degree granting programs in one of the specialty
areas of Materials Science and Engineering. The majority of undergraduate programs provide
a survey across the spectrum of materials. Other programs focus in one particular class of
materials like Ceramics, Metallurgy, or Polymers.

A few universities only have graduate programs. Graduate programs are open to people with
bachelors degrees in the field as well as those from other more general areas of science and
    "Materials Science and Engineering Overview" - Sloan Career Cornerstone Center (
                Some resources are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
                           and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.   Page 4 of 13
engineering. Specific areas of expertise in each program are dependent upon the faculty in
that program. The average program is staffed by 15 faculty members. Programs range in
faculty size from less than ten members to near forty. No single program covers the entire field
due its breadth and the typically modest number of faculty members.

Accredited Programs
Those interested in a career in materials engineering should consider reviewing engineering
programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.
(ABET). ABET accreditation is based on an evaluation of an engineering program's student
achievement, program improvement, faculty, curricular content, facilities, and institutional
commitment. The following is a partial list of universities offering accredited degree programs
in materials engineering, including materials, ceramic, and metallurgical programs.

      Materials Programs                                 Ceramic Programs

             The University of Akron                        Alfred University
             University of Alabama at Birmingham            Clemson University
             Alfred University                              University of Missouri-Rolla
             Arizona State University                       Pennsylvania State University
             University of Arizona                          Rutgers, The State University
             Auburn University                                 of New Jersey
             Brown University
             California Polytechnic State University,
              San Luis Obispo                            Metallurgical Programs
             University of California, Davis
             University of California, Irvine               The University of Alabama
             University of California, Los Angeles          Colorado School of Mines
             Carnegie Mellon University                     University of Idaho
             Case Western Reserve University                University of Missouri-Rolla
             University of Cincinnati                       Montana Tech of the University of
             Colorado School of Mines                          Montana
             Cornell University                             University of Nevada-Reno
             Drexel University                              The Ohio State University
             University of Florida                          University of Pittsburgh
             Georgia Institute of Technology                South Dakota School of Mines and
             University of Illinois at Urbana-                 Technology
              Champaign                                      University of Texas at El Paso
             Illinois Institute of Technology               University
             Iowa State University
             The Johns Hopkins University
             University of Kentucky
             Lehigh University
             University of Maryland College Park
             Massachusetts Institute of Technology
             Michigan State University
             Michigan Technological University
             University of Michigan
             University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
             Montana Tech of the University of
             New Mexico Institute of Mining and
             North Carolina State University at Raleigh
             Northwestern University
             The Ohio State University
    "Materials Science and Engineering Overview" - Sloan Career Cornerstone Center (
                Some resources are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
                           and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.   Page 5 of 13
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