What's in a Name?

We are the School of Materials Engineering, at Purdue.

At most other universities, these days, materials are studied in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, a name that has gradually become standardized since it was first coined at Northwestern University, in the 1960's. The predecessors of all these departments of Materials Science & Engineering, were typically departments of Metallurgy, Metallurgical Engineering, Mining, Ceramics, and so on. And, yes, this was the School of Metallurgical Engineering in 1959 (when it became independent from the School of Chemical Engineering) and adopted its present name in 1973. For more information on the first years of MSE see Chapter 1 of  "A History of the School of Materials Engineering"  by Mysore Dayananda.

So why are we a "School" instead of a "Department?" And why have we no "Science" in our name?

It's partly a matter of tradition, and partly a reflection of our particular style. (Our undergraduate degree is the Bachelor of Engineering in Materials Science and Engineering, and this gives us our familiar three letter campus code or designator "MSE." Even this is sometimes written as "MsE" acknowledging the difference between the School's name and that of the degree.)

School or Department?

Academic units at Purdue may be Schools or Departments. Generally speaking, Schools are larger, more independent and more powerful - something like Colleges on many large university campuses. The right to award degrees is vested only in the Schools. The School of Liberal Arts has Departments such as English and Philosophy, and the School of Science has Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Math and Biology. But the College of Engineering comprises eleven schools, and two departments. We take pride in the title, which reflects a certain independence of style. This is embodied in our unique approach to the teaching of Materials.

Why no Science?

Well, we do teach a lot of science. Campus legend has it that there was once an objection to the already powerful Schools of Engineering venturing into the hallowed field of Science but, in fact, the title reflects our approach to materials - that we study them because of their engineering utility, not their scientific beauty. This is not to say that we are above stopping and smelling the scientific "roses," and much of what we see in our microscopes is, indeed, truly beautiful. We just begin with the question "how could you make that?" and lead up to "why does it work?" rather than going the other way around. The emphasis on Engineering is not in opposition to science, it is just the fundamental reason for doing what we do, and it is appropriately reflected in our name.