What is Materials Science and Engineering?
The discovery of new materials and improvement of existing ones are crucial to bettering our quality of life and solving critical technological and societal problems. Making safe, fuel efficient vehicles requires light weight, strong materials. Improving the performance of jet engines requires new materials that can be used at high temperature. Increasing the computing capabilities of microprocessors requires improved materials for use in ever smaller integrated circuits. Developing new fuels and new sources of energy involve designing new materials for energy conversion and transmission. Integration of advanced capabilities in electronics with medicine or the environment requires the development of new materials systems with that exhibit high performance and stability in harsh environments. These challenges are among the many types that materials scientists and engineers take on in their daily routines.
MS&E is one of the most exciting areas in science and engineering. Success in engineering stronger, faster, lighter, smaller, and better materials is rooted in developing a fundamental understanding of:
- How materials are structured on the atom-by-atom, nanometer (one billionth of a meter), and micrometer (one millionth of a meter) scales;
- How the structure of a material determines its properties, characteristics, and performance; and,
- How materials can be grown, synthesized, and processed to have the structure and properties that are desired.
The tools used and developed by Materials Scientists and Engineers include:
- Atomic resolution microscopes, which let us “see” atoms and nanometer features in materials that are impossible to see using a standard light microscope and that let us map out the composition and structure of materials, atom by atom;
- Analytical instruments the measured x-ray, electron, and neutron scattering and spectroscopy tools that allow us to determine the structure and composition of materials on their surfaces and in their bulk;
- Mechanical, electrical, and optical testing instrumentation that allow us to characterize the properties of a material as a function of its structure and processing;
- Computational modeling, which allow us to simulate and understand the characteristics of a material, virtually without even making it, and to predict or design new materials; and,
- Human ingenuity, which drives us to invent, discover, and engineer.
Students who enjoy the sciences and are interested in applying the sciences to real world technologies should consider a curriculum and career in MS&E: