Engineering matter – opportunities in materials science
Dr Saad A Mutasher of Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus explains how materials science is changing the world – and how you can be part of this exciting field.
Living in a material world
Materials science has a huge impact on everyday life as everywhere in the world, everyone uses materials. Materials may be classified into several groups: metals, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, and composite materials. It is the innovations in engineering them that bring about clever uses of materials, old and new.
New materials open doors to new technologies, whether they are in civil, chemical, construction, nuclear, aeronautical, agricultural, mechanical, and biomedical or electrical engineering. In materials science engineering, understanding the material selection process is the key to engineering any application and/or parts design.
What do materials scientists do?
- determine the structure and properties of materials
- devise ways of processing materials ie creating materials, transforming existing materials, and making useful things out of them
- think about how a material is suited to the purpose it already serves and how it may be enhanced to give better performance for a particular application.
Each of the activities is dependent upon the other. Materials scientists are usually engaged in more than two of these processes.
A world of opportunities
Materials engineers are in high demand by industry and government in research, development, production and management. Materials engineering is a hands-on career that often begins in manufacturing or technical support and moves on into management, research, development, sales or consulting. Materials engineers work on the leading edge in many industries as follows:
Materials engineers focus on making microelectronic units such as personal computers and handphones smaller, less expensive and able to process data faster.
In the automotive industry, materials engineers work on fuel efficiency and how to reduce pollution as well as discovering new materials such as composites and polymers to replace steel body panels.
Aeronautical and aerospace
Materials engineers lead the development of strong and lightweight composites such as those for building aeroplanes and space shuttles.
They develop new diagnostic equipment such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, and design nano-particles that could be used in biosensors.
New power sources such as solar cells which convert sunlight to electricity are becoming more cost-effective. New ceramic engines will be able to operate at higher temperatures thus increasing engine efficiency.
Materials engineers have delivered stiffer golf clubs to increase distance, low-friction bearings for roller blades, lighter bicycles, and more reliable and controllable parachutes.
In the course
The main core subjects for a typical materials science course are:
- mathematics and physics
- materials processing
- materials and manufacturing
- mechanical properties of materials
- heat and mass transfer
- physical and mechanical metallurgy
Word of advice
Students interested in becoming materials engineers should develop a strong background in chemistry, physics and maths, along with social studies, languages, the humanities and the arts. You should also be interested in applying your knowledge to developing materials, products and production processes.
This article first appeared in doctorjob's coursesNOW! Engineering 2010.