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What is Materials Science and Engineering?
The field of materials engineering involves extracting, developing, processing, and testing a wide variety of materials for almost any use imaginable. A materials engineer may work with metals, plastics, ceramics, semiconductors, or combinations of materials (composites). Materials are needed to make virtually everything, ranging from consumer products like golf clubs, industrial machinery, and computer chips, to equipment for the space program. Areas of emphasis within the field of materials science and engineering include metallurgical engineering (from which many materials science and engineering programs developed), ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, biomaterials and microtechnology/nanotechnology.
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What Do Materials Engineers Do?
The range of activities for materials engineers is very similar to that for engineers in general. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor makes the following statement about the work of engineers on its website: "Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs." Expanding on this a bit, the work done by engineers is sometimes classified as being in production, design, or research and development.
A materials engineer working in production would most likely be working in manufacturing, and may be doing testing, troubleshooting, and/or overseeing the production process, with emphasis on the materials being used in the product(s). A materials engineer working in design would be designing new product(s) with emphasis on the materials to be used for the new product(s). A materials engineer working in research/development may be working in the research/development department of a company, in a government lab, or in a university, and would probably be working on development of materials to meet some specific need. Many materials engineers will specialize in working with some type of material, such as metallurgy, ceramics, composites, or polymers.
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What Companies Hire Materials Engineers?
A wide range of companies hire materials engineers. For example, on its website, the Sloan Career Cornerstone lists 95 companies as examples of those who hire materials engineers. This list include primary metals companies, like Alcoa, AK Steel, and Dalton Foundries; computer related companies, like Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Intel; automotive companies, like Ford, GM, and Chrysler; chemical companies, like E.I. DuPont and Dow Chemical; petroleum companies, like Conoco and Exxon; national labs, like Argonne National Lab or Los Alamos National Labs; as well as a variety of other companies, like Babcock & Wilcox, Deere & Company, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, and Sherwin Williams.
The State University of New York at Stony Brook, on its materials science and engineering website, lists hundreds of high tech companies who work in materials science and engineering fields, in categories similar to those above.
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Where Does One Study for Materials Science Engineering Careers?
Programs of study for materials science engineering careers may be in a Department of Materials Science and Engineering or in a Department of Materials Engineering. The Engineering Education Service Center at http://www.engineeringedu.com/engrschools.htm lists the following numbers of U.S. programs: 30 Materials Science and Engineering programs, 14 Materials Engineering programs, 5 Metallurgical and Materials Engineering programs, 1 Materials Science Engineering program, and 7 Metallurgical Engineering programs. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology lists 56 U.S. programs with accredited degrees in Materials Engineering on its website at http://www.abet.org/. Some materials science and engineering or materials engineering programs are within a Department of Mechanical Engineering or a Department of Chemical Engineering. There are also many materials science and engineering programs at colleges worldwide. The State University of New York at Stony Brook, on its Materials Science and Engineering website (see link in previous section), provides links to 90 Materials Science and Engineering and related programs in the U.S.; 16 such programs in the UK and 16 non U.S./non UK universities.
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How About High School Preparation for Materials Science Engineering Careers
If you're in high school and considering a materials science engineering career, you should include as much mathematics, chemistry and physics as you can in your college-prep program of study. When you start a college program leading to a materials engineering degree, you'll start by taking more mathematics, chemistry and physics, along with English and general education courses, before taking materials science and engineering courses.