Aspiring inventors who are fascinated by chemistry and physics should consider pursuing further education in materials engineering, which is sometimes referred to as materials science. This area focuses on creating substances with useful properties, such as heat resistance, and sometimes involves improving the beneficial properties of existing substances.
What is materials engineering?
Elizabeth A. Holm, professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, describes materials engineering as “modern day chemistry.” Materials engineers can produce materials with “amazing properties,” she says.
For example, Gorilla Glass developed by Corning has extreme durability, but it can be light enough and thin enough to allow touch screens to function. Gorilla Glass is often used in cell phones and other personal electronics.
Holm notes that the production of Gorilla Glass would not be possible without the efforts of materials engineers. “All the things that we can do with our devices are made possible by this material which looks like a piece of window glass, but it is good, good, much more technical.”
Materials engineers also manufacture the exotic ingredients needed for quantum computers, and they produce the building materials needed for a variety of aerospace vehicles ranging from commercial airplanes to private space shuttles, Holm adds.
When students ask her to define the term materials engineering, she always presents the following thought experiment: While looking at each object around them, students should consider the fact that each of these objects is made up of certain ingredients without which it would be impossible for these objects to work.
What do materials engineers do?
The role of a materials engineer, says Holm, is to figure out what ingredients should be used to create a product and to “figure out how to make” that product with those particular ingredients. Materials engineers can work in almost any industry, from cosmetics to home appliances, she explains.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for materials engineers in 2019 was $ 93,360.
Ting Gao, director of materials engineering at TE Connectivity, an industrial technology company, says innovation is constant in the field. She notes that although she has spent 16 years of her career with TE Connectivity, she is still introduced to “something new” every day she goes to work.
“Whether it’s developing materials capable of withstanding the high voltage and high temperature in electric vehicles, or working on materials that make new generation aircraft lighter and more durable, our teams are working to develop environmentally friendly components and materials, while providing the quality and durability our customers expect, ”Gao wrote in an email.
Gao says that materials engineering has a huge influence on daily life, but the importance of this field is often overlooked. “Your average person might not realize it, but the performance of everything we interact with – from aircraft engines to medical devices to consumer electronics – depends on materials engineering,” she wrote.
Brandon Sweeney – co-founder and head of materials research and development at Essentium, a company that makes industrial 3D printers and industrial materials – explains that materials engineers typically collaborate with other types of engineers.
For example, to create a cell phone, the efforts of a materials engineer would not be enough, because the phone cannot be made without mechanical, electrical, software and design engineering.
However, “the current device is made up of a collection of metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites that must all work in unison to provide the functionality required,” said Sweeney, who earned a PhD. of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering Texas A&M University, wrote in an email. “A materials engineer can help make the right material and processing choices to maximize performance, while minimizing costs and failures.”
Sweeney notes that materials engineers are often at the forefront of technological development.
“Materials engineers usually solve big challenges to enable the technologies of tomorrow,” says Sweeney. “From the development of new generation battery materials for energy storage, new membranes for the production of clean water, sustainable plastics to remove pollution, semiconductors for electronic and computer infrastructures and all kinds. from biomedical devices to improving health and quality of life, materials engineers have a major impact on our world for generations to come. “
Sweeney suggests that the field of materials engineering might be particularly appealing to someone intrigued by several academic disciplines.
“Personally, I was torn between chemistry, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering when I started University“he said.” I couldn’t accept that if I chose one of these disciplines, I would have to give up learning from others. As soon as I learned materials science and engineering, I knew this was the only degree I could get that wouldn’t let me regret choosing just one of the other disciplines. “