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Materials Science and Engineering

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Undergrad Degree: BS

Materials Science and Engineering (MS&E) is a broad, multidisciplinary field devoted to understanding and manipulating the mechanical, electrical, optical and magnetic properties of materials. Materials science focuses on understanding fundamental mechanisms that determine and define these properties, and the influence that various processes have on them. Materials engineering, in contrast, involves the deliberate synthesis, chemical and physical modification, and processing of natural materials to meet specific requirements for advanced technologies.

For many engineering fields, ultimate product capabilities are often determined by the underlying materials' limits — for example, the strength-to-weight ratio of a carbon fiber composite in a tennis racket or the wear resistance and biocompatability of materials for hip joint replacements. Materials engineers are often at the core of new product development, from initial design through manufacturing. For these reasons, professionals in MS&E are employed today in almost every industry, from aerospace giants such as Boeing to microelectronics manufacturers including Intel and Motorola.

The field of materials science and engineering is broad and diverse. Students majoring in the field normally specialize in one or two areas. These areas include general materials science, metallurgy, optical and electronic materials, ceramics, polymers, biomaterials, chemical synthesis, or solid state physics. Specialization comes with selecting technical breadth and depth elective courses in the junior and senior years. These courses are chosen from both MS&E and related fields such as electrical and computer engineering, or chemical engineering.

An attractive and challenging program combines materials science and engineering with electrical or mechanical engineering, leading to a double major. The MS&E double major with electrical engineering is particularly well suited to students with an interest in working the electronic materials industry. The double major with mechanical engineering will prepare students for positions that will call on all skills in both mechanical design and the complex properties of the material used in building advanced devices.

In professional practice, MS&E requires strong laboratory skills. Students in the field are strongly encouraged to become involved in research at some point in their undergraduate careers, either in a paid position or for academic credit. During a typical academic year, sixty or more MS&E undergraduate students are engaged in state-of-the-art research working directly with the faculty and graduate students.