What Does A Materials Engineer Do?

"I am intent on pursuing an engineering degree when I go to college so I’m currently looking up courses that I could possibly take up. Civil, mechanical and electrical engineering don’t seem to interest me as much as another branch of engineering which I came across recently in my research—that of materials engineering. Can you please tell me more about this? What does a materials engineer do?"

asked by Greg P. from Laconia, New Hampshire

Materials engineers are interested in studying and developing materials so that they can be used in making various products. To a certain degree, they are different from the other kinds of engineers because they look at materials at the atomic level and tear their components apart through the use of computers. Doing so enables them to study materials more thoroughly and analyze their characteristics so that problems in other fields of engineering can be solved.

Materials engineers do very important work because the things we use come from materials—and it is their responsibility to develop, process and test these materials to ensure that these will meet stringent engineering requirements. It is also part of their job to find new ways to utilize materials and create new ones. Thus, before you were able to swing your golf club or enjoy the latest movie from your widescreen LED TV, materials engineers tested these components meticulously to ensure that they would fulfill their intend purpose.

In addition to finding out the performance of materials and reviewing their process of deterioration, they also determine why a product failed and find solutions for them. Failure analysis is an important aspect of the job of materials engineers because it is through their work that problems in buildings, vehicles and other structures which can lead to the loss of lives are addressed and more importantly, averted in the future.

Materials engineers also review a product’s design objectives. They determine if the technical specifications are accurate and that the economic factors are addressed. They do this evaluation for processes as well.

In addition to the technical aspects of the job, materials engineers also plan and consult with other peers on new projects. They write proposals and prepare budgets and labor costs. In the course of the project, they produce reports, supervise technologists, technicians and other engineers and scientists and do other managerial responsibilities.

Because materials engineering is a broad field, materials engineers may choose to specialize in particular materials. For example, those who are interested in developing and testing polymers so they can be used in new ways can work as plastics engineers. Those who are interested in developing and processing materials for use in the aircraft and automobile industries can be composites engineers.

Those who prefer to make ceramic materials so they can be turned into useful products are called ceramic engineers. Those who prefer to work with steel, aluminum and other metals are called metallurgical engineers while those who would like to use their knowledge to come up with new microelectronic materials for computers and related applications work as semiconductor processing engineers.

Career Spotlight: Materials Engineer

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