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Materials Science - Overview


Materials science programs prepare people to use math and science to test and analyze solids. Students learn about chemical properties and structures. They also learn about stress and failure factors.

How can something be both smooth and rough? Or soft and hard? Consider carbon. In the form of graphite, it is soft and you can use it as a lubricant. But in the form of diamond dust, it is extremely hard and it makes an excellent abrasive.

That's not carbon's whole bag of tricks, either. Materials scientists are working on other forms that are rare or nonexistent in nature. They can form carbon into globes so that they can "package" other atoms inside. And they are trying to form it into ever-longer tubes with the goal of creating the strongest fibers ever known.

In materials science you study the principles of chemistry and physics. You learn how these determine the properties of materials. Down at the molecular level, you understand what makes the difference between materials such as graphite and diamond. You study the structure of complex polymers. You study biomaterials such as proteins and cellulose. You learn about the properties of metals, ceramics, and electronic materials. You learn how various processes can change the structure or chemistry of a material. That is the key to creating new materials that can be components of new products. Or they can improve existing products.

Four years of full-time study in this field can earn you a bachelor's degree, the usual entry ticket to the work force. About 45 colleges in the U.S. offer this degree program.

Since the bachelor's degree program is somewhat hard to find, you may want to specialize at the postgraduate level. Get a bachelor's degree in another field, such as chemistry or engineering. Then, enter a master's degree program in materials science. Over 80 universities offer this program.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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