Explore Materials Science and Engineering
Do it—choose this major! Every tangible product is made of a material—and you will be seen as the materials expert. Having a material science and engineering background has helped me in every stage of my career thus far.—Stephen Ruiz, MatS ’13
Materials engineers are involved in the extraction, development, processing, and testing of the materials used to create a diversity of products.
Innovations in engineering materials are at the core of every major advancement in technology. For example, high-strength steel paved the way for the industrial revolution, high-purity silicon propelled the age of miniaturized circuits and computers, and optical fibers have enabled high-speed communications in the information age. Materials scientists and engineers have made vast progress in discovering the fundamentals of processing, structure, and properties of materials. They work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors, and combinations of materials called composites to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.
Materials engineers evaluate economic factors and use their knowledge to develop materials that can be used—for example, to reduce weight but not strength. Materials scientists and engineers have developed the ability to create and study materials at the atomic level using advanced processes, electrons, neutrons, and x-rays, and to replicate the characteristics of materials and their components with computers.
Today, materials scientists and engineers are developing materials for the next wave of technological advances: Nanomaterials for electronic devices; biomaterials for implants; new materials for high performance batteries and solar cells; organic semiconductors for flexible electronics; and high-performance plastics and composites for automotive applications.
*Salary and Career Outcomes gathered from the 2018-2019 CSE Graduation Survey. Post-graduation outcomes reflect the percentage of students who were employed full-time in their field or were enrolled in a graduate program at 6 months post-graduation.
What can I do with a major in Materials Science and Engineering?
- Biomedical devices
- Chemical products
- Failure analysis
- Government agencies/labs
- Materials processing
- Optical devices/coatings
- Packaging engineering
- Polymer resins/polymer/plastics
- Quality control
- Andersen Corporation
- Appvion, Inc.
- Bostik, Inc.
- Boston Scientific
- Brady Corporation
- Ford Motor Company
- General Mills
- H.B. Fuller
- Micron Technology
- Seagate Technology
- Target Corporation
- Advanced and Basic Chemistry Laboratory Techniques
- Failure analysis/quality and reliability: Tests and predicts mechanical/electrical/chemical failure; assessment of performance and statistical variability of products.
- Manufacturing engineer: Plans the tooling, construction, and assembly of the product as dictated by design specifications.
- Materials consultant: Serves as expert in one area of materials and is familiar with past experiments and theories related to the hiring firm's proposed project.
- Materials engineer: Works on the structure, processing, properties and performance of engineering materials.
- Materials testing: Tests materials properties and performance in applications; can involve mechanical, electrical, optical, magnetic, structural properties, etc.
- Operations engineer: Works on-site, spending time ensuring that the plant is producing the right amount of product to the correct specification.
- Process engineer: Develops and maintains the processes required to synthesize, purify, process, shape, and control materials.
- Product engineer: Follows the production cycle of a new product or variations of existing products to ensure they are meeting specification. May work with marketing and R&D to ensure that a product will meet customer needs.
- Research and development scientist/engineer (R&D): Researches structure, processing, properties and performance of materials for the development and use of applications in technology.
- Sales and marketing engineer: Assists customers in solving production and process problems by using technical knowledge to provide and sell products and services meet their specific needs, and offer training where needed.
- Quality engineer: Supports development and ensures compliance with the company’s quality management system (QMS) in accordance with industry standards and provides technical support to product engineering, marketing, manufacturing, etc.
**Some of these positions may require an advanced degree.
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Q&A with Stephen Ruiz, Process Engineer, Andersen Corporation
What do you do?
I run a thermoplastic materials and process development lab within Andersen’s Research, Development, and Innovation group. Our team is responsible for new material and process development, continuous improvement support of our plants, scale up, and other activities involving thermoplastics.
What’s a typical work day?
There is no typical day in our group. That’s one of the best parts if this job! A typical week might look like this:
- Monday—Group/team meetings to go over data or events from the previous week; discuss priorities and make plans for the current week.
- Tuesday—Visit a production facility to meet with plant engineers and technicians;
- discuss current issues or dive deeper into a specific problem that we are looking to solve.
- Wednesday—Run a 5- or 6-hour Design of Experiments (DOE) geared towards defining the process window of a new material.
- Thursday—Run a 5-or 6-hour screening DOE geared towards helping operations solve a scrap issue.
- Friday—Analyze data from the previous two days, team meetings to discuss observations from DOE’s, and plan out schedule for the next week.
What qualities are important for this position?
Being positive and flexible. Project priorities, equipment scheduling, and project plans are constantly changing—I need to be flexible to support the current needs of our internal customers. It is easy to become negative when decisions outside of my control affect my day to day schedule. Having a positive attitude will only make your life and your coworkers lives easier.
What about technical skills?
It’s important to have a solid understanding of statistics, unit operations, material rheology, fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer.
What training were you offered for this position?
All of my training has been on the job. I learned by shadowing engineers and technicians in the manufacturing plants. I also learned by buying textbooks and studying in my free time.
What part of your job is most satisfying?
I love that my work is hands on. I sit at my desk less than 25 percent of the time I am at work. I learn by doing, and my job allows me to do that as much as I want.
Managing a team. As a young professional, I am still working to define my leadership and management style. I manage a team of passionate and skilled technicians, and I find it challenging to balance my time between my technical work and my managerial work.
What are your possible career paths now?
Right now, I have a few options:
- Continue to grow and get promoted within my current team. I am an Engineer II right now, and I have the opportunity to be promoted to Engineer III. This path would set me up to eventually be a Technical Leader within the Research and Development space.
- I can apply to move into our operations group where I could be an Engineering Lead. This path would set me up to eventually be an Engineering Manager or Operations Leader.
Advice for current students?
Get involved in student groups at the College of Science and Engineering. You won’t regret it.