What Do Materials Engineers Do? Are you interested in designing everything from bullet-proof vests to windows that produce solar energy, and from self-cleaning clothes to bone/cartilage use in artificial body-part replacements?

Do you dream about developing cutting-edge materials with outstanding combinations of mechanical, chemical, and electrical properties that make other advances possible?

Would you like to work in an office that has access to computers and design equipment or in factories or in research and development laboratories?

The field of materials engineering offers unique opportunities to make a real difference by developing, processing, and testing materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices (such as artificial limbs, reconstituted tissues, and intravenous catheters).

Materials Engineers

  • Study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials, and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirement.
  • Deal with the science and technology of producing materials that have properties and shapes suitable for practical use.
  • Work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors, and composites.
  • Are involved in selecting materials for new applications.
  • Create materials at an atomic level, using advanced processes to replicate the characteristics of those materials and their components with computers.
  • Control the manufacturing processes used to convert basic materials into final engineered products.

Specializations

  • Metallurgical engineers specialize in metals such as steel.
  • Ceramic engineers develop ceramic materials and the processes for making them into useful products, such as glassware or fiber-optic communication lines.
  • Nanotechnology is a prime example of exciting new product developments made possible only through new materials and/or processing.

Famous Materials Engineers

  • Gail E. Leese -Vice President of Worldwide Parts Services for Deere Company; responsible for managing worldwide parts distribution and John Deere merchandise, in support of the company’s equipment divisions
  • Sayed Khatiboleslam Sadrnezhaad – Iranian Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and former director of Materials and Energy Research Center; his research includes nanomaterials, memory alloys, and precious metals
  • Melburne C. LeMieux – Co-Founder and Director of Materials and Process Engineering at C3 Nano, Inc.
  • Ben D. Almquist – winner of the Materials Research Society Gold Award, the top honor for Materials Science Ph.D. students in America; his research focused on new self-assembled biomaterials for treating diabetic foot ulcers
  • Lawrence Van Vlack – former Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan; had an extraordinary impact on the field, particularly through his dedication to materials education, coordinating accreditation of the oldest existing undergraduate curriculum in Materials Science and Engineering

Areas of Employment

  • Aerospace products and parts manufacturing
  • Engineering services
  • Primary metal manufacturing
  • Computer and electronic product manufacturing
  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
  • Nanotechnology

Career Guidance Suggestions for Pre-University Students

Coursework to consider:
  • Pre-algebra
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Engineering fundamentals
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Trigonometry
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Robotics
  • Programming
  • Design
  • Thermodynamics
  • Kinetics
  • Materials structure
  • Mechanical properties
  • Physical metallurgy
  • Electrochemical processing
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Transport phenomena
  • Corrosion
  • Biomaterials
  • Diffraction
Suggested extracurricular activities:
  • Competitions
  • Summer programs
  • Afterschool programs
  • Clubs
  • Internships
  • Online puzzles and games
  • Online courses
  • Maker Faires
  • Design projects
Local programs offered by:
  • Science centers and museums
  • Professional societies like IEEE
  • Universities
Important Skills:
  • Analytical skills: work on projects related to other fields of engineering, determining how materials will be used and how they must be structured to withstand different conditions.
  • Math skills: use the principals of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
  • Problem-solving skills: understand the relationship between materials’ structures, their properties, how they are made, and how these factors affect the products they are used to make; figure out why a product might have failed, design a solution, and then conduct tests to make sure that the product does not fail again by identifying root causes when many factors could be at fault.
  • Communication skills: state concepts and directions clearly while working with technicians, technologists, and other engineers; communicate engineering concepts to people who may not have an engineering background when speaking with managers.
  • Writing skills: write plans and reports clearly so that people without a materials engineering background can understand the concepts.

 

Links and Resources

  • The American Ceramic Society: advances the study, understanding, and use of ceramic and glass materials for the benefit of its members and society.
  • The Materials Information Society: preeminent association for engaging and connecting materials professionals and their organizations to the resources necessary to solve problems, improve outcomes, and advance society.
  • The Materials Research Society: an organization of materials researchers worldwide that promotes communication for the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research and technology to improve the quality of life.
  • Microscopy Society of America: promotes and advances techniques and applications of microscopy and microanalysis in all relevant disciplines.
  • The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society: promotes the global science and engineering professions concerned with minerals, metals, and materials.