A guide to studying Materials Science at university - including what to expect, reasons to consider the subject area, application tips and a careers overview.
Why consider studying Materials Science at university?
The study of material science at university encompasses all types of materials, these include metals, ceramics, plastics, composites and textiles. Material science underpins engineering fields such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace, energy, chemical and medical. All these different engineering disciplines rely on material science engineers to bring in new materials to support what they do and understand how materials behave in certain environments.
The study of materials is how you link the structure of a material to its final properties. Materials engineers manipulate the structure of a material at atomic, microscopic or component scales to alter the mechanical, chemical, electrical, optical, thermal or magnetic properties of the final product to suit the required applications and functions.
Material science will be vitally important to address many problems we face currently, for example, the use of solar, wind and other forms of green energy to address climate change, decarbonising industry with the possibility of replacing carbon as a fuel source with hydrogen or battery storage, also the need to recycle better- to understand during the design of goods how to make the best use of materials and the need to reclaim these materials at the end of the product’s life. Watch this section on the video from 00:38 – 16:57
What to expect if you study Materials Science at university?
The modules studied on a materials science course will include:
- The range of materials, including ceramics, metals, composites, polymers and textiles
- How you can link the structure and properties of materials
- Resources and the circular economy including recycling of materials
- How materials fail, for example fatigue, corrosion and creep and how this can be prevented
- Manufacturing techniques
- Analytical and computational skills, how modelling can be used to predict properties and control things
- Lab work - using skills for case studies on materials that have failed or design of new products
Material science departments work closely with industry and are heavily involved in the latest technology and processes. These close links with industry increase the experience of students, they incorporate visiting speakers and site visits, enabling the linking of research projects and case studies to real life scenarios and collaborative use of specialist equipment.
Most universities offer an optional year in industry or a year studying abroad after year two, before the final year. Materials Science courses include group work which encourages networking and support from staff and other students. There is usually a dissertation in the final year, undertaking research using the material science knowledge and skills gained.
On completion of a Material Science course you will achieve a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) or MEng (Master of Engineering) qualification.
There is also PGR (postgraduate research) funding available for material science graduates which can fund a doctorate in this subject. Watch this section on the video from 16:57 – 20:55
What careers does studying Materials Science lead to?
Material Science graduates have gone on to undertake careers in the automotive sector, aerospace, working with raw materials and manufacturing, medical engineering, communications, sports equipment, energy, structural engineering and defence.Watch this section on the video from 20:55 – 21:31
Application tips for Materials Science courses at university
You should attend university open days. Open day visits will enable you to look at the facilities and equipment universities have, speak to current undergraduate and postgraduate students and explore the surrounding area.
You should also check university’s accreditation and investigate the research activities and grants available as this will show how active the university is with regard to undertaking and applying their research. You should also ask about employment rates following graduation at the universities you are considering. Watch this section on the video from 21:31 – 22:50
Professor David Penney, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Swansea University.
Jon Cheek, Founder and Director, UniTasterDays.com