What is Materials Science Engineering?

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Students considering careers in engineering or design professions may have many questions about the MSE degree. The MSE (or Materials Science and Engineering) is a demanding program that prepares students to work in many fields of design and investigation.

What is Materials Science Engineering?

This engineering discipline focuses on the study of materials, usually in their solid forms, which includes aspects such as their bulk, their surfaces and their reactions to other materials. According to the National Science Foundation Website there are two major areas in which professionals with this degree can focus: Forensic Engineering or Failure Analytics. Both of these areas are critical to the design of new materials and products. Forensic engineering investigates materials that fail, including their properties and components, causing bodily injury or property damage. An example of this is found in recent news headlines about automobile recalls due of airbag explosions. On the other hand, failure analytics studies how material malfunction or disintegration leads to catastrophic events. In the example of an aviation accident, scientists must understand why the engine part or the application failed before they can design a new material that will succeed. In addition, these scientists study the properties of materials so that they can create better designs. For instance, they look at making machine parts smaller without compromising their functional integrity.

What Training, Including Practical Experience, is required to get a degree in Materials Science and Engineering?

Entry-level positions are available with a bachelor's degree, but managerial jobs require graduate degrees. People considering the MSE major should have strong math, science and communication skills. Programs include several common courses (though the course titles may vary) including thermal dynamics, the basics of material characterization, electricity and magnetic properties of materials, properties of ceramics, polymers, bonding principles and metallurgy. Practical experience for an MSE can include part-time work in a field-related job to get hands-on experience, but this is usually not a requirement. Usually, practical experience for an MSE involves a capstone research project or thesis supporting research. Some schools mandate a team project designing a new material or investigating a failed one to demonstrate student understanding of the principles of the major. So what is required is usually an intra-program activity that allows students to display and use their knowledge. Another approach is asking students to complete an interdisciplinary study with another department to research a common problem, applying principles from both fields to find solutions.

Are There Opportunities to Specialize in the MSE Program?

Some students specialize in specific materials like metals or ceramics, but even then, the demands of answering the questions posed working as a materials engineer require a good fundamental background in all properties and reactions. That is why the experience of working with other students who have varying expertise helps students demonstrate a thorough grasp of the MSE curriculum.

MSE professionals are in demand; the BLS statistics for this profession show a median salary for materials engineers of $81,150. If you are interested in science and engineering, and have a curiosity about the materials used in building things, an MSE program may be the right fit for you. In an world that is focusing on renewable materials, it is an exciting time to be a part of the materials science and engineering field.