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The field of Materials Science and Engineering

Materials Science

Materials Science centers on the relationships among the processing, structure, properties and performance of six major classes of materials:

  1. Metals
  2. Ceramics
  3. Polymers
  4. Composites
  5. Semiconductors
  6. Biomaterials

This grouping combines materials with similar chemical make-up, atomic structure and/or engineering properties. There is an intimate link between the chemical and physical structure of materials and their mechanical, electrical, thermal, optical, magnetic and deteriorative properties. 1

A common example of a material with a wide variety of properties and applications is aluminum, which is used in many ways, including in beverage cans, electrical and thermal applications, construction materials, and transportation systems. Likewise, low processing costs for modern steels allow for competition with plastics in the fabrication of car bodies. The properties of steel make it indispensible for heavy equipment, machinery and reinforcement members. Other alloys exhibit superior performance, such as resistance to aqueous corrosion (stainless steels), mechanical wear (bearings) or high-temperature gases (gas turbine components). Special metals are used in special applications, such as soft magnet cores for electrical transformers, permanent magnets for motors, electrical wires and mirror reflectors. These unique qualities are derived from the structure of the material, from an atomic through a macroscopic level.

Likewise, a wide range of properties and requirements for ceramic parts provide their important applications: chemical and mechanical stability and low thermal conductivity for refractory bricks for industrial ovens and furnaces, as thermal shields for the nose cone and leading wing edges for the space shuttle, etc. Smooth and inert ceramic glazes provide attractive chinawear and coating for household appliances. Various glass compositions and processes have been adapoted to engineer optical fibers, coated auto windshields, higher temperature sealants, etc.

Other special compositions and structures have led to such high-tech applications as low-temperature superconductors, ferroelectric materials, high-temperature sensors and fuel cell components, and transducers. In fact, these materials compete with each other and with plastics to gain or maintain a market share for many engineering applications.


"Engineering is the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgement to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind." 2

The discipline of materials science and engineering (MSE) links scientific research with applied engineering to design materials for specialized uses. This field draws upon many areas in both the scientific and engineering realms. From science, the study of physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science each play a part in explaining the origin of unique properties found in a substance. The engineering knowledge and experience of ceramists, metallurgists, electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers are brought to bear in the application of these properties for a required use. It is this combination of scientific exploration and practical, hands-on engineering that makes this field so fascinating for its students.


1 Adapted from The Science and Design of Engineering Materials, Schaffer, et al. and Materials Science and Engineering; An Introduction, Callister
Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

Additional resources

What is Materials Science? YouTube video from MatEdu National Resource Center.

Overview of MSE as a field of study and career. Sloan Career Cornerstone Center has put together a thorough description of the various engineering fields, including MSE.

Wikipedia article on MSE

100 Greatest Moments in MSE The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society (TMS) has put together a timeline of the most significant events in materials history.

My Cool Job Career information targeted at high school and middle school students. Features an OSU MSE alumna in this section.

Strange Matter

The Materials Research Society, The Ontario Science Centre, and the National Science Foundation have teamed up to put together a fun and informative look at the study of materials called "Strange Matter." Link to (requires FlashPlayer)