person working on computer

A materials scientist or engineer could...

Develop a way to recycle non-metallic components of old computers to create park benches, fences, and sewer grates. park bench Create a titanium alloy joint that can be used as a permanent hip bone replacement. hip replacement joint
Design a ceramic car engine that is lightweight, fuel efficient, and can run at high temperatures without a cooling system. pristine white engine Research the quality of new adhesives that are based on the glue made by a sea mussel. mussles
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview What makes it possible to create high-technology objects like computers and sports gear? It's the materials inside those products. Materials scientists and engineers develop materials, like metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites, that other engineers need for their designs. Materials scientists and engineers think atomically (meaning they understand things at the nanoscale level), but they design microscopically (at the level of a microscope), and their materials are used macroscopically (at the level the eye can see). From heat shields in space, prosthetic limbs, semiconductors, and sunscreens to snowboards, race cars, hard drives, and baking dishes, materials scientists and engineers make the materials that make life better.
Key Requirements Curiosity, perseverance, and great focus, with excellent communication skills and a love for hands-on laboratory experiments
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, computer science and statistics
Median Salary
Materials Scientist and Engineer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
  • Tina Tajalli uses what she knows about materials and welding to help other engineers build big projects like oil refineries.
  • Read this interview to meet the late Stephanie Kwolek, the great inventor of Kevlar®, a material that can be woven into a fabric and is well-known for its terrific tensile strength and bullet-stopping powers.
  • Watch this video to meet Dr. Shenda Baker, a materials scientist who introduces kids around the country to the science of everyday stuff.
  • Watch this video to meet Lee Ann, a materials scientist who works near blazing furnaces to manufacture a ceramic metal composite material that can be used as armor for the army, the air force, and the marines.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

A bachelor's degree in physics, chemistry, materials science, or materials engineering, or a related discipline is the minimum educational requirement; however, many research jobs require a master's degree or, more often, a PhD.

Education and Training

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry, physics, and engineering. The number of colleges that offer a degree program in materials science and engineering is small, but is gradually increasing.

Students planning careers as materials scientists or engineers should take courses in science and mathematics on their way toward earning a bachelor's degree, should like working with their hands, building scientific apparatus, and performing laboratory experiments, and should like computer modeling.

In addition to taking required courses in analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, undergraduate chemistry majors usually study biological sciences, mathematics, physics, and increasingly, computer science. Computer courses are essential because employers prefer job applicants who are able to apply computer skills to modeling and simulation tasks and operate computerized laboratory equipment. This is increasingly important as combinatorial chemistry and advanced screening techniques are more widely applied. Courses in statistics are useful because materials scientists end engineers need the ability to apply basic statistical techniques.

Other Qualifications

Because research and development (R&D) materials scientists are increasingly expected to work on interdisciplinary teams, some understanding of other disciplines, including business and marketing, or economics, is desirable, along with leadership ability and good oral and written communication skills.

Experience, either in academic laboratories or through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in industry, is also useful. Some employers of materials scientists or engineers, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, prefer to hire individuals with several years of postdoctoral experience.

Perseverance, curiosity, and the ability to concentrate on detail and to work independently are essential.

Watch this video to see how materials engineer Carlos Barrios and his coworkers create and study new sticky materials to make commercial products.

Nature of the Work

Everything in the environment, whether naturally occurring or of human design, is composed of chemicals. Materials scientists apply chemistry, as well as physics, to study all aspects of materials. Chemistry, however, plays an increasingly dominant role in materials science because it provides information about the structure and composition of materials.

Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials to develop new products or to enhance existing ones. They also determine ways to strengthen or combine materials, or to develop new materials for use in a variety of products. Materials science encompasses the natural and synthetic materials used in a wide range of products and structures—from airplanes, cars, and bridges to clothing and household goods. Materials scientists often specialize in specific areas, such as ceramics or metals.

Materials engineers are involved in the development, processing, and testing of the materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and snow skis. They work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors, and composites to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They are also involved in selecting materials for new applications. Materials engineers have developed the ability to create and then study materials at an atomic level, using advanced processes to replicate the characteristics of materials and their components with computers. Most materials engineers specialize in a particular material. For example, metallurgical engineers specialize in metals such as steel, and ceramic engineers develop ceramic materials and the processes for making them into useful products, such as glassware or fiber optic communication lines.

Work Environment

Materials scientists and engineers usually work regular hours in offices and laboratories. Research and development materials scientists spend much time in laboratories, but also work in offices when they do theoretical research or plan, record, and report on their lab research. Although some laboratories are small, others are large enough to incorporate prototype chemical manufacturing facilities, as well as advanced testing equipment. In addition to working in a laboratory, materials scientists also work with engineers and processing specialists in industrial manufacturing facilities.

Materials scientists and engineers typically work regular hours. A 40-hour work week is usual, but longer hours are not uncommon. Researchers may be required to work odd hours in laboratories or other locations, depending on the nature of their research.

On the Job

  • Plan laboratory experiments to confirm feasibility of processes and techniques used in the production of materials having special characteristics.
  • Analyze product failure data and laboratory test results to determine causes of problems and develop solutions.
  • Monitor material performance and evaluate material deterioration.
  • Supervise the work of technologists, technicians, and other engineers and scientists.
  • Devise testing methods to evaluate the effects of various conditions on particular materials.
  • Design and direct the testing or control of processing procedures.
  • Evaluate technical specifications and economic factors relating to process or product design objectives.
  • Conduct or supervise tests on raw materials or finished products to ensure their quality.
  • Determine ways to strengthen or combine materials or develop new materials with new or specific properties for use in a variety of products and applications.
  • Perform managerial functions, such as preparing proposals and budgets, analyzing labor costs, and writing reports.
  • Confer with customers to determine how to tailor materials to their needs.
  • Solve problems in a number of engineering fields, such as mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil, nuclear, and aerospace.
  • Conduct research on the structures and properties of materials, such as metals, alloys, polymers, and ceramics, to obtain information that could be used to develop new products or enhance existing ones.
  • Plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with other engineers and corporate executives as necessary.
  • Review new product plans and make recommendations for material selection based on design objectives, such as strength, weight, heat resistance, electrical conductivity, and cost.
  • Recommend materials for reliable performance in various environments.
  • Test individual parts and products to ensure that manufacturer and governmental quality and safety standards are met.
  • Visit suppliers of materials or users of products to gather specific information.
  • Research methods of processing, forming, and firing materials to develop such products as ceramic dental fillings, unbreakable dinner plates, and telescope lenses.
  • Design processing plants and equipment.
  • Modify properties of metal alloys, using thermal and mechanical treatments.
  • Guide technical staff engaged in developing materials for specific uses in projected products or devices.
  • Plan and implement laboratory operations for the purpose of developing material and fabrication procedures that meet cost, product specification, and performance standards.
  • Determine appropriate methods for fabricating and joining materials.
  • Conduct training sessions on new material products, applications, or manufacturing methods for customers and their employees.
  • Supervise production and testing processes in industrial settings, such as metal refining facilities, smelting or foundry operations, or nonmetallic materials production operations.
  • Write for technical magazines, journals, and trade association publications.
  • Prepare reports of materials study findings for the use of other scientists and requestors.
  • Replicate the characteristics of materials and their components with computers.
  • Teach in colleges and universities.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Materials Scientist and Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
"Plastic made from milk" —that certainly sounds like something made-up. If you agree, you may be surprised to learn that in the early 20th century, milk was used to make many different plastic ornaments —including jewelry for Queen Mary of England! In this chemistry science project, you can figure out the best recipe to make your own milk plastic (usually called casein plastic) and use it to make beads, ornaments, or other items. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever had a refreshing bath using a bath bomb? A bath bomb is several ingredients mixed and molded into a shape, which becomes fizzy when it touches the water. It can be quite a relaxing experience, especially if your bath bomb has a nice fragrance or includes some bath salts. The fizz is the result of a chemical reaction taking place between different ingredients within the bath bomb. In this science project, you will get to make your own homemade bath bombs and explore how changing… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you like your hair shiny and beautiful? The key to keeping your hair nice and clean is to use a good shampoo. But with so many different products in the store, how do you know which one works best for you? In this science project, you will put a variety of shampoos to the test, including your own self-made organic shampoo recipes. Do you think these will perform better than a store-bought product? Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
There are many different kinds of slime out there. Some slime is runny and liquid-like; other slime is thick and rubbery. Some slime glows in the dark, some is fluffy, and some is even magnetic! What set of properties makes the best slime? What kind of slime would you choose to make if you were selling slime as a toy in your own "slime shop"? In this project, you will experiment with different slime recipes and try to perfect one to make the best slime. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Space exploration, living, and working in space exposes space travelers and their equipment to radiation not present on Earth. The study of how we can protect ourselves and our equipment is an essential part of space exploration. Although you will not be able to test at levels equivalent to what you might encounter in space, you can test with lower and safer levels of radiation in the lab or at your home. There are many types of radiation. This project concentrates on ionizing radiation, or… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The funny thing about friction is that you couldn't get anywhere without it, yet it still acts to slow you down as you're getting there. Here is an easy project to measure the effects of friction. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Physicists sometimes study matter under extreme conditions. For example, think of the emptiness of interstellar space vs. the unimaginable crush of pressure at the center of a neutron star, or an object dipped in liquid nitrogen vs. the tiles on the space shuttle during re-entry. Here's an experiment on permanent magnets in "extreme kitchen" conditions that you can try at home. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that cosmetics companies employ teams of specialized scientists to develop and test each new line of makeup, perfume, lotion, or soap? This science project lets you be the cosmetics scientist. You will create your own lip balm right in your kitchen using a short list of ingredients, then test it, and follow up with some creative cosmetics science of your own! Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
There is strong interest in "going green," including using products that cause less environmental damage when they are disposed of. In this environmental sciences project, you will compare the toxicity of "green" and conventional liquid detergents using worms as test organisms. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The human kidney is the most commonly transplanted organ in the United States, numbering more than 17,000 transplants in 2010 alone! But kidney transplantation technology faces a lot of challenges, including a shortage of kidney donors and the need for recipients to take immunosuppressant drugs to keep their bodies from rejecting a transplanted kidney. In this science project, with the help of bioinformatics databases, you will explore how a kidney could be bioengineered using stem cells,… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
You have probably seen it on You Tube™ — the exploding Coke® and Mentos® experiment. But what is it that makes the reaction happen, and what factors cause a larger or smaller eruption? In this science project, you will see if using crushed Mentos candies, instead of whole Mentos candies, will affect the reaction. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Making your own bubble solution is fun, but sometimes the bubbles don't seem to work as well as the solutions you buy in the store. In this experiment you can test if adding corn syrup or glycerin to your bubble solution will make it just as good as the stuff you can buy. This experiment will have you blowing bubbles! Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered how fun toys like Silly Putty®, Gak™, and Slime™ are made? These products are so much fun because of the properties of polymers, which make them delightfully bouncy, stretchy, sticky, moldable, breakable, hard, soft, and just plain fun! In this science project you can be the developer of your own slime product by changing the amount of a key ingredient. By observing the physical properties of your results, you can choose the best recipe for your new… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Nut clusters, chocolate-dipped candies, and chocolate-dipped strawberries are just some of the delicious goodies that have a thin, rich layer of chocolate wrapped around them. But how do pastry and candy chefs make these delectable treats? The first step is to melt and temper chocolate. Tempering is a process in which the cocoa butter in chocolate is hardened into a specific crystalline pattern. When the cocoa butter molecules are in this pattern, the chocolate is shiny and breaks with a sharp… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen a product labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable" and wondered just how well it decomposes? A lot of different products claim to be biodegradable or compostable, such as food containers, bags, packaging materials, and spoons and forks. Not only do they clearly come in different shapes and sizes, but they are made of different materials as well. Do they decompose differently, and, if so, which decomposes the fastest? In this science project, you will make your own indoor… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Can you build a volleyball machine? It will need one part to launch a ping pong ball over a net and another to return the ball. How many back-and-forth volleys can you get before the ball touches the ground? While the 2019 Fluor Engineering Challenge is over, you can still try this fun project out yourself. Follow the rules and compare your score to top scores from around the world! Looking for this year's challenge? Check out our main Fluor Engineering Challenge page for all the latest… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
This is a simple "kitchen chemistry" project about acid/base chemistry. Scientists measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution using a logarithmic scale called the pH scale. In this project you'll learn about the pH scale, and you'll make your own pH indicator paper using a pH-sensitive dye that you'll extract from red cabbage. You can use your pH paper to measure the acidity/alkalinity of various household solutions. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever noticed how magnets appear to have no effect on each other when they are far apart? Then, when you slowly move them closer together, you will start to feel a gentle pull until they suddenly snap together? How exactly does the strength of a magnet change with distance, and how would you measure it if you wanted to find out? In this project you will build a circuit that can measure the strength of a magnetic field and see how the field strength changes with distance. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
When your parents were kids, they probably wore polyester. Static cling was a major household issue! Now everybody wears cotton, which does not get static cling nearly as much. Why are some materials more susceptible to static cling than others? Investigate how well different materials produce static electricity by making a homemade electroscope and testing it out in this science project. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Playing basketball can be hard work. Players not only constantly run around the court, but just dribbling the basketball takes a lot of effort, too. Why is that? It has to do with how the basketball bounces. When the ball hits the court, its bounce actually loses momentum by transferring some of its energy into a different form. This means that to keep the ball bouncing, players must continually put more energy into the ball. In this sports science project, you will determine how high a… Read more

Ask Questions

Do you have a specific question about a career as a Materials Scientist and Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.

Additional Information


Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • AMD
  • Motorola Solutions
  • Seagate
Free science fair projects.