The field of materials science and engineering is one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degree fields. It’s also a broad field that encompasses studies and careers in materials of all kinds. There are many different positions you could hold in materials science and engineering, with distinct areas of focus in different kinds of materials and in different industries of employment.
Materials Engineering Roles by Types of Material
One of the ways positions in the field of materials science and engineering are categorized is by the type of material with which you work. Materials engineers consider a material to be any substance that has useful properties, which encompasses many different types of substances.
Metallurgical engineers, for example, are materials engineers who work with metals, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Some of the different kinds of work you might do as a metallurgical engineer include processing these raw metal materials and using physical and chemical methods to combine them into alloys that possess the desired properties for manufacturing and other purposes. Steel, iron, aluminum and copper are some of the types of metals a metallurgical engineer is most likely to work with, but some metallurgical engineers work with precious metals like gold, silver and platinum.
Plastics engineers work with plastics and polymers to develop, test and refine plastic materials. Plastics are used in numerous industries, from food packaging to manufactured goods and even healthcare, and many plastic goods are meant to be disposable. Although human uses of plastic date back thousands of years, one of the challenges today’s plastics engineers face is to reduce the environmental impact of the plastics industry. Plastics engineers are increasingly working to develop sustainable polymers that use fewer resources and a higher percentage of renewable resources and create fewer emissions as they are produced.
Did you know that ceramics are used for more than just plates, mugs and decorative items? Ceramics engineers process ceramic materials into everything from the nozzles used in a rocket’s engine to the glass used in flat-screen televisions, according to the BLS. Another high-tech position you might hold with a materials science and engineering degree is semiconductor processing engineer. This role involves developing types of microelectronic materials that are used in computing and other technological applications, the BLS reported. If you work with composites, materials that are made up of a blend of two or more materials, then your title might be composites engineer.
How do you begin preparing for one of these (or other) types of positions within the field of materials engineering? Many bachelor’s degree programs in this field offer specialized tracks so that students can begin to develop an area of expertise.
Industries of Employment for Materials Engineers
Your employment possibilities with a degree in materials engineering are almost limitless. Materials engineers work in labs, offices, factories, universities and on-site at mines where raw metals are extracted. They use cutting-edge computer technology to make designs as well as physical techniques like welding and forging to accomplish their objectives. In many ways, the typical routine of a materials engineer depends on the type of metal they work with and the part of materials processing in which they specialize – such as laboratory research, design, materials processing and more. Despite all we already know about each of these kinds of materials (and more), there’s still a lot to learn. For many materials engineers, the goal of their work is to find ways to develop products that cost less, work better, are safer and are more environmentally friendly.
Materials engineers work in so many distinct industries that the top five employing industries combined account for just 52 percent of the profession, according to the BLS. The single industry that employs the largest share of materials engineers is transportation equipment manufacturing, of which 16 percent of materials engineers are a part. Opportunities in the engineering services industry make up 10 percent of the profession. Both the fields of scientific research and development and computer and electronic product manufacturing employ 9 percent of the occupation, and primary metal manufacturing makes up 8 percent of the field. Pharmaceuticals, electronics and nanotechnology are just a few of the industries in which materials engineers search for job opportunities.
A bachelor’s degree is the most common education among materials engineers, accounting for 51 percent of the occupation, O*NET reported. Nearly one in three materials engineers has a master’s degree, and eight percent of the field reported having a doctoral degree.
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