What is Materials Engineering?

New materials have been among the greatest achievements of every age and they have been central to the growth, prosperity, security, and quality of life of humans since the beginning of history. It is always new materials that open the door to new technologies, whether they are in civil, chemical, construction, nuclear, aeronautical, agricultural, mechanical, biomedical or electrical engineering.

Materials scientists and engineers continue to be at the forefront of all of these and many other areas of science, too. Materials science and engineering influences our lives each time we buy or use a new device, machine, or structure. (You can read more about the impact of this exciting field in our list of suggested readings.) The definition of the academic field of Materials Science & Engineering stems from a realization concerning the every application of materials: it is the properties of the material that give it value. A material may be chosen for its strength, its electrical properties, resistance to heat or corrosion, or a host of other reasons; but they all relate to properties.

Experience shows that all of the useful properties of a material are intimately related to its structure, at all levels, including which atoms are present, how the atoms are joined, and how groups of atoms are arranged throughout the material. Most importantly, we learn how this structure, and the resulting properties, are controlled by the processing of the material.

Finally materials must perform their tasks in an economical and societally responsible manner. Understanding the relationships between properties, structure, processing and performance makes the Materials Engineer the master of the engineering universe.