Materials engineering programs prepare people to design materials used in production. Students learn to bond and synthesize composites. They also learn to use math and science to test materials and find out why they sometimes fail.
How can a huge plane sneak by a radar screen? The US Air Force has developed such a plane - the B-2 Spirit, better known as the Stealth Bomber. The Stealth's fighter plane surface is made of materials with low observability, which make it difficult for another country's defensive system to detect. And who was part of the team that developed that surface? Materials engineers, of course!
A materials engineering program teaches you the properties of various materials. You learn how to choose the right material for a particular use. You have to consider more than just how it performs. You have to think about the cost of the material, its availability, and how easy it is to shape into a product.
You also study how to work with materials. High technology has developed exotic materials that require special techniques when they are applied and shaped. These materials have special properties that make them worth the effort. But sometimes these same properties make the materials difficult to work with. There's a grain of truth in this old joke: If nothing sticks to Teflon, how do they get it to stick to the pot?
Even space-age materials have their limits. Sometimes materials break down, burn up, wear away, or fail in some other way. So in this program you also learn how to analyze material failure.
In materials engineering, you generally can enter the work force with a bachelor's degree. This amounts to four years of full-time study beyond high school. Some programs take five years, especially if they include some work experience. Other programs allow you to progress to a master's degree in five years. About 50 colleges in the U.S. offer the bachelor's degree in this field.
You may also consider getting a bachelor's degree in another branch of engineering (or perhaps chemistry), and then entering a master's program. Earning a master's degree will take one or two years. About 70 graduate schools of engineering offer a master's in materials engineering.