Materials Engineering

Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances in order to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They analyze materials to see why a material failed, and invent ways to improve the original material. They are also involved in the whole life cycle of a material, from creation to recycling.

What makes it unique?

Materials are ever evolving and the development of new properties can impact how products work, how long they last, and how they are produced. This is field that is rich in research and the results can impact global society!

Degree Connections

The following are examples of some accredited degrees leading to a career in materials engineering:

Search our global database of accredited engineering programs.

Want to learn more?

Click on the blue tabs to explore the field in more detail and learn about preparation and employment, the green tabs to be inspired by people working in materials engineering and how they impact the world, and the orange tabs for ideas on how to learn more and you can get involved with activities, camps, and competitions!

Explore nikkytok

From cellular phones to artificial hip joints to lightweight bicycles, materials engineers work to develop products that improve lives. Most materials engineers specialize in a particular material. For example, ceramic engineers develop ceramic materials and the processes for making them into useful products such as glassware or fiber-optic communication lines.

Generally these engineers work in teams with others, providing the materials expertise to the development of new products or systems. They generally work in offices but will also visit testing facilities or manufacturing locations as part of a product development process, or to meet with clients.

Aluminum: boule

In 1886, Charles Martin Hall and his sister Julia discovered a way to produce aluminum through electrolysis – which was efficient and cost effective. Hel patented his process and around the same time, the same process is discovered by chemist Paul T. Héroult of France. Today, the Hall-Héroult Process is the method every aluminum producer in the world uses to create aluminum.

The advent of aviation in the early 1900s gave aluminum an expanded role as it was so important to developing lightweight airplanes. Today, aluminum is used in many materials including cans, foils, kitchen tools, window frames, vehicle parts, furniture, and art! It also does not rust, is very strong, and the process of creating aluminum has been improved over the years to require less electricity, so it is even more efficient!

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Virtually all industries demand people with backgrounds in materials engineering. They contribute advances in the auto, aerospace, construction, manufacturing, electronics, computer, and telecommunications industries by developing new or improved metals, plastics, ceramics, semiconductors and composites. They may need to monitor impurities in steel destined for an assembly line, improve the materials used in a car bumper, or developing new processes for delivering medication.

In addition to educational institutions, government, and healthcare, there are three main sectors that employ materials engineers:

  • Primary Metals Producing (generally large companies such as steel, ceramic, or glass manufacturers or those creating and improving polymers)
  • Manufacturing (focused on transportation, electrical or electronics, consumer goods, biomaterials, and computers)
  • Service (companies that offer research and development, testing, or engineering services to other firms or governments)

The following is just a sample of some companies, in addition to government agencies, which employ materials engineers:

For most engineering careers:

  • a bachelor’s degree is required
  • a master’s degree may be recommended for those specializing or interested in management
  • students may also start with a related associate degree and then move on to a bachelor’s when they have settled on a degree path.
  • many students are required to participate in a co-op program while at university to gain real world experience in their chosen field.
  • education doesn’t really stop…engineers need to stay current as technology changes and materials and processes improve over time.
  • many professional societies offer certificates and coursework to support continuing education for their members.

At the undergraduate level, examples of courses include crystal structures, thermodynamics, mechanics of materials, polymer and composite processing, materials engineering design.

It is important to select an engineering degree that has been accredited to meet basic standards.  Find out more and browse TryEngineering’s global database of accredited engineering and computing programs.

Be Inspired dortec

One of the best ways to explore what it might be like to work in materials science and engineering is to learn about people who contributed historically or are currently working in the field.

  • Wallace Hume Carothers is credited with the invention of nylon, a thermoplastic material that is melt-processed into fibers, films, or shapes. Nylon was first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush in 1938!
  • Gwen Gross is a Material, Process & Physics Engineer that works at Boeing. She acts as an intermediary between Boeing’s material suppliers, engineers, and manufacturing shops and provides a chemist’s perspective on materials, processes, and any emergent issues.
  • Stacy Trey is polymer science engineer who works at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden working on a project to replace petroleum-derived chemicals with chemicals based on bio-renewable sources.
  • John B. Tytus invented a process to manufacture continuously rolling sheets of steel, which reduced the manufacturing time and therefore the cost of sheet steel.
  • John Smeaton invented modern concrete, or hydraulic cement. Concrete is one of the most frequently used building materials and is used globally, ton for ton, at twice the levels of steel, wood, plastics, and aluminum combined!

In 1909, Leo Baekeland synthesized the thermosetting hard plastic Bakelite – this material marked the beginning of the modern plastics industry and was the first real synthetic, mass-produced plastic. It was used in the manufacture of many everyday items including radios, telephones, light switches (it is heat resistant), and even jewelry – and it is still highly collectible today.

His invention was brought to light by entering a competition to come up with a more durable material from which to make pool or billiard balls. Apparently at the time, when hit just the right way, pool balls exploded!

The process eventually would lead the way to the development of polymers and other plastics which have revolutionized product development globally. It is challenging to identify a product that doesn’t include one form or another of plastic.

Find out more:

Get Involved Gresei

Clubs, competitions, and camps are some of the best ways to explore a career path and put your skills to the test in a friendly-competitive environment.


  • Many schools have environmental or chemistry clubs or opportunities for students to get together and work on challenges. Materials engineering requires a strong base of chemistry understanding which will give a good foundation to education in materials science and engineering.



  • TryEngineering Summer Institute, US: Attend the TryEngineering Summer Institute to further your core engineering skills.
  • ASM Materials Camps offer hands-on discovery for the college bound, and are offered at no cost to attendees
  • Eisenman Materials Camp: Students work on several group projects and experiments throughout the week-long camp and are instructed by “Materials Mentors” — professional members of ASM International from a variety of scientific backgrounds and industries

Many universities offer summer engineering experiences. Reach out to your local university’s engineering department to see what they offer. StockPhotosArt

Did you know you can explore materials engineering in your community? Consider the design of bicycle helmets and how they have changed over time:

  • What different materials are in your bicycle helmet?
  • What properties of the materials are the most important?
  • Research how helmets have changed over time. Do you think materials advances have helped improve safety? How?
  • In addition to the various materials, how has the shape or construction of bicycle helmets changed? Why does the shape of components matter?
  • How would you think bicycle helmets might change in five years? Ten years? Fifty years? Do you think electronics might be incorporated in helmets? New materials? What would you like to see the helmet of the future look like?

Find out more:

Be sure to reach out to professional societies focused on materials engineering where you live. Not all will offer membership to pre-university students, but most offer groups for university students, and certainly offer online resources to help you explore the field.

Some examples of groups focusing on materials engineering:

Some resources on this page are provided or adapted from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Career Cornerstone Center.