What is Materials Science?

We get asked this question often at MatEdU: What is materials science? As the only two-year materials science degree in Washington State, home to an 11,000 square foot advanced technology lab housed at Edmonds College, we know how to answer it, too. 

Materials science focuses on the relationship between the atomic and molecular structure of a material, the properties of the material (such as strength, electrical conductivity or optical properties), and ways in which the material is manufactured or processed into a shape or product.” You can read more on our What Is Materials Science page, of course. 

One of our popular videos about Materials Science

However, most of the people that ask us that question are truly asking one of a handful of other questions, such as:

  1. Can I get a “good” job in Materials Science?
  2. Is material science a good career choice?
  3. Is material science hard? 
  4. What do you mean by material science?
  5. What does material science do?
  6. What is material science used for?
  7. Can you give me examples of “Types of Materials” that exist?

As a National Science Foundation project, we want to answer those deeper questions because our mission at MatEdU is to help educate students on career opportunities in Materials Science. There are many jobs that require only a certificate of completion and some that require a Ph.D. in the field. We tend to highlight the ones that require anything from a certificate (Boeing example below) up to a two-year degree, but we have links and partners at the four-year degree level on this site. 

Materials Science Careers (a few example of job titles)

  • Composite Manufacturing Technician
  • Quality and Testing Technician
  • Manufacturing Technician
  • Composite Assembly Technician
  • Composite Design Technician
  • Composite Tooling Technician
  • Materials Manufacturing Technician
  • Industrial Engineering Technician
  • Nondestructive Testing Technician

Boeing, with numerous facilities in Washington State, has worked closely with Edmonds College over the years, particularly under its Composites Training program, to train engineering technicians for a variety of job titles: 

  • Test technician
  • Materials technician
  • Composites technician
  • Quality assurance

Students who complete the 15 credit composites Certificate of Completion are eligible to apply for Boeing’s Blue Streak Mechanic, Composite Manufacturing Technician or Tooling Inspector Apprenticeship programs. Learn more at the The IAM/Boeing Joint Apprenticeship Program.

For some, the term “apprenticeship” comes with antiquated ideas — that jobs requiring apprenticeship are low-tech, manual labor, and not desirable. Nothing could be further from today’s reality where prospective candidates have an average starting salary of $70,000. In fact, Department of Labor data shows that in addition to that above-average starting salary, apprentice-based programs retain their employees at 94 percent. Apprentice program participants also have a $300,000 lifetime earning advantage over many other trades and careers. To make sure you don’t miss an opportunity: 

  • 24,000+ Apprenticeship Programs Across the Nation
  • $70K Average Starting Salary
  • 94% Employment Retention
  • $300K+ Lifetime Earning Advantage
  • There are 26,000 registered apprenticeship programs active across the nation.
  • In 2020, more than 221,000 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system.
  • 82,000 apprentices graduated from the apprenticeship system in FY 2020.

More info on the Materials Science Technology Certificate of Completion (which is only 15 credits, or roughly one quarter). These three required courses, for the certificate, will help you to demonstrate knowledge, comprehension, and application of concepts related to metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites.

Is material science a good career?

Ultimately, students want to answer this question before they start exploring materials science, can I get a good job in this field? The full two-year AAS-T in Materials Science Technology page is loaded with all the details (and it is a professional-technical degree). 

To get a practical sense of works that students do in these in-depth courses, take a look at the composites projects that students have completed (which involve carbon fiber materials and skills): 

This chart goes beyond the basic question of What Is Materials Science (the simple question that started this post) and the exploration of materials science as a specialty and as a career. Here is a visual chart showing a variety of career pathways that the Edmonds College Materials Science Technology program helps you explore. 

Edmonds College Materials Science Technology program prepares students for advanced manufacturing industries in careers such as a materials/composites technician, fabricator, or materials testing technician.

Since we mentioned Types of Materials above, and it is one of our most popular requests and related to the “what is materials science” question, the Types page provides a short, but comprehensive list and description of 12 of the most common materials that people study (on the “Types” page each topic below has a more detailed set of documents you can download):  

  1. Biomaterials
  2. Ceramics
  3. Composites
  4. Concrete
  5. Electronic / Optical
  6. Glass
  7. Metals
  8. Metamaterials
  9. NanoMaterials
  10. Polymers & Plastics
  11. Semiconductors
  12. Wood

Note: If you are a materials science educator or instructor, in addition to the Types of Materials curricula, please take a look at the recently updated Materials Science Educational Handbook which can be downloaded chapter by chapter.

In reality, smartphones, computers, solar panels, batteries (colonizing Mars depends on those last two), electric vehicles, earth travel and space travel (sensing an Elon Musk tie here?), nanotechnology, clean energy, and just about everything we touch and experience is linked to materials science. 

Overall, MatEdU, as an online resource for materials science and materials education, strives to answer a whole range of questions about various materials. Our goal is to help people learn enough that they can decide if this growing and important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field is one for them. We hope this post and list of resources can help you on your journey to a career as a materials scientist or just satisfy your curiosity about this important question: What Is Materials Science? 

Governor Inslee To Address Washington State As Global Hub for Alternative Fuels

On May 20, the Consortium for Hydrogen And Renewably Generated E-Fuels (CHARGE) is offering its inaugural conference to address critical materials challenges in the energy and transportation sectors. As hydrogen and e-fuels are deployed as alternative fuels, several organizations are joining forces to make Washington State a global hub for commercializing new fuels and technologies.   

Save the Date: Thursday, May 20 from 8AM to 1PM.

Learn more about CHARGE.

JCDREAM CHARGE Conference visual explaining how renewable and alternative fuels are the future of energy.
Image Courtesy of JCDREAM

The following Washington State University (WSU) centers will act as founding members of the CHARGE Consortium:  

  • JCDREAM – Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth Abundant Materials 
  • HYPER – Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research 
  • ESIC – Energy Systems Innovation Center 
  • ASCENT – Aviation Sustainability Center

The consortium seeks commercialization partners in the following sectors (the survey request linked below is about identifying potential partners for pilot projects and programs): 

  • Transportation: marine, aviation, shipping, trucking, and personal transport OEMs with a focus on long term deep decarbonization 
  • Harvesting: agriculture, fishing, logging, and mining with the goal of long-term sustainability and circular carbon economies 
  • Cloud Computing: companies interested in alternative fuels for decarbonizing the cloud 
  • Utilities: focus on deploying and managing low cost or excess clean energy assets towards hydrogen or fuel production which is sold or used for long term energy storage and reintroduced to the grid  
  • Process Engineering: firms dedicated to innovative chemical engineering and process scaleup 
  • Chemical and Materials Manufacturing: companies that will commercialize new processes for hydrogen or fuel/chemical production and materials needed to enable efficient processing 

If you are interested in the CHARGE event, this page shares the details and asks you to take a short survey which will be used to connect potential collaborators around new pilot projects, including opportunities around public and private funding. 


More info:

MatEdU News wrote about the critical materials shortage last year: JCDREAM Drives Innovation For Earth-Abundant Materials:

“Around the globe, world leaders are issuing calls to action on the shortage of critical materials, also known as rare earth elements (REE), that impact everything from our cell phones and computer hard drives to military defense capabilities. The United States, the European Union, and Japan have all raised concerns for materials shortages and supply chain risks.”

We also included them in a post about the Race to the Ocean Floor that highlighted ocean explorations and plans for mining rare earth elements there. 

If you are wondering about the need for shifting from critical materials to sustainable materials, read this JCDREAM blog post on The Importance of Materials Science Education & Workforce Development.

MatEdU Materials Science Educational Handbook 2021 Published

As part of the new NSF ATE funded MatEdU Online Instructional Resource for Material Science Technology Education project, one of the exciting and key deliverables is the publication of a Materials Science Educational Handbook 2021. We are pleased to announce this new handbook is now live on the site.

Materials Science Educational Handbook Editor, Thomas G. Stoebe, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, and Co-Principal Investigator of the former National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education (MatEdU) spent months with a team of subject matter experts to develop this new peer reviewed resource. It is packed with materials science educational modules for secondary and post-secondary instructors and students, with lesson plans, course objectives, and hands-on activities and labs in materials science topics, from beginner to advanced levels (full chapter listing and links below).

The handbook contains the various modules and course standards that you will need to develop and teach a wide range of materials science lessons.

In the Handbook, there is an Introduction and How to Use section that lays out exactly what you will find with instructions on navigating each unit of peer-reviewed, hands-on educational activities, called “Modules.” Each chapter is listed separately in the MatEdU Instructional Resources section as a downloadable PDF (see screenshot below). The entire document is internally cross-indexed with hyperlinks to allow quick and easy access to all sections of the handbook.

Materials Science Educational Handbook Table of Contents

Properties of Rubber Bands (and Heat)

For example, in Chapter 1 Intro Materials, if you want to know more about “The Odd Behavior of Rubber Bands,” or some understanding of how those properties respond to heat, you can jump directly to that handbook section and peruse a simple lesson plan with student learning objectives as well as equipment and supplies needed for the lesson. There are also extensive instructor notes to help with actual classroom content and discussion points that get quite specific, as in the section on Heating a Rubber Band and what happens when you do so. 

From Chapter One: “The Handbook provides proven instructional materials for instructors to utilize in a variety of settings. For K-12 classes, connections to the Next Generation Science Standards are provided along with applicable connections to Science and Engineering Practice, Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts from A Framework for K12 Science Education.”

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), according to the NGSS website, “are K–12 science content standards. Standards set the expectations for what students should know and be able to do. The NGSS were developed by states to improve science education for all students.” The Materials Science Educational Handbook follows and offers input on using these standards. 

Instructors and students can also access each chapter PDF with the following links:

Some of these modules already exist within the MatEdU Module area (dozens of modules/lesson plans are available) and can be searched for if you need only one particular topic area, such as Rubber Bands and Heat, (where you can compare properties and applications of thermoset plastics) but the most updated version is in the Handbook.

For those curious about the many materials education resources available through the Online Instructional Resources for Material Science Technology Education, we wrote about the new grant here: Materials Education (MatEdU) Improves And Expands As Online Resource Center.

Critical Materials Race To The Ocean Floor

There is a shortage of critical materials needed for common consumer needs, such as, a cell phone battery, all the way up the chain to military defense needs. One area of the world has yet to be fully explored, and arguably exploited: Our oceans.

Deepsea Challenger Submersible Ocean Exploration for Critical Materials post _TJ McCue

The sea floor is believed to be rich with many of the rare earth elements we need for our increasingly technologically-advanced lives. Late last year, MatEdU News profiled JCDREAM and its efforts to search for sustainable alternatives, “earth-abundant materials,” to supplement the rare earth mineral shortage. We discussed how there are benefits to ocean mining, but also an unknown number of risks to it as well.

In a compelling story, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, who hosts the weekly TV program, Full Measure, explored “The Battle Below.” In the episode, Attkisson explains how a national emergency has developed “over U.S. access to some rare earth elements, and why it’s become a new cold war with China.”

She interviewed a number of marine experts, among them, oceanographer and biologist Tim Shank. According to the Full Measure episode:

“When he’s on dry ground he works at Woods Hole, the Massachusetts coast town that’s given its name to one the world’s leading marine research organizations: The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. But his research goes deep, to the furthest reaches of the ocean as far as 35-thousand feet beneath the surface.

“Shank: When I started 20 years ago, the conversation of mineral resources and mining and harvesting from the deep sea wasn’t even a topic, and now it’s a topic of almost every conversation. Every deep sea biology meeting we have is discussing deep sea mining at the forefront.”

As the show and our research makes clear, deep-sea mining is possibly worth in the trillions of dollars. Many of the rare earth minerals mentioned in our earlier post about JCDREAM highlight this issue as one we have to solve, but more importantly, get right – meaning we have to do this right because we only get one chance. There are rare elements at the bottom of the ocean that may hold the key to future, life-saving medical advances as well as possible insights into climate change. Woods Hole and others are racing to try and answer important questions about the impact and opportunity the ocean floor offers humanity and the planet.

Here’s the full Deepsea Challenger. Deep ocean research has relied on submersible vehicles such as this one, but increasingly remotely controlled drones and robots are coming online and proving safer and sometimes more capable.

Deepsea Challenger Ocean Exploration Critical Materials

As mentioned in our earlier post, you can learn more about critical materials with these sources:

JCDREAM Drives Innovation For Earth-Abundant Materials

JCDREAM website

Around the globe, world leaders are issuing calls to action on the shortage of critical materials, also known as rare earth elements (REE), that impact everything from our cell phones and computer hard drives to military defense capabilities. The United States, the European Union, and Japan have all raised concerns for materials shortages and supply chain risks.

A significant number of university departments and government agencies are approaching this challenge from different perspectives. In Washington State, the Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth Abundant Materials (JCDREAM), located at Washington State University at Everett, is flipping the equation and asking first how we find and explore existing alternatives and future alternatives with “earth-abundant materials.”

The JCDREAM Symposium organizes and coordinates, via Zoom, discussions on the future of sustainable materials and how to tackle the challenge. Two recent ones are available in their archive, but the December topic (register by clicking the title link): Advancing Critical, Rare and Abundant Materials Education in Washington State includes materials experts Mel Cossette & Ann Avary. If you miss the December 8 event, a recording will be shared on JCDREAM archive page a few days after the presentation.

From the site: “Cossette and Avary have worked to advance materials science education and workforce development in the state of Washington for decades. They are combining their expertise in these areas to widen the focus to critical and earth-abundant materials to ensure that the next generation of engineers and technicians are prepared to address these issues.”

You can also keep tabs on the JCDREAM Symposium 2021 upcoming topics (dates TBD)

    • Battery Materials and Electrification
    • Washington State Policy Feature
    • National Security and Material Supply Chains

If all this discussion about rare earth elements has you wondering about the full list, you need only revisit the periodic table from your high school or university chemistry class. JCDREAM has a terrific Resource page that includes a “Rare Earths 101” factsheet and a long list of blog posts that can help you refamiliarize yourself with materials science and rare earth elements.

To whet your appetite, according to United States Geological Survey (USGS), there are 17 REEs:

    • Lanthanide elements (15 in total – atomic numbers 57 through 71 on the periodic table)
    • Scandium
    • Yttrium

There are also energy critical elements (ECEs) that are used widely in energy production, transmission, and storage. These include elements you will likely recognize: lithium, cobalt, selenium, and silicon, to name just a few.

Source: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. 2020. “Critical Materials Factsheet.” Pub. No. CSS14-15NOTE: This factsheet has some terrific graphics to show which materials are in a critical stage (lack of supply) to non-critical. The American Geosciences Institute provides a great overview: What are rare earth elements, and why are they important? that includes a variety of links to the USGS and other helpful sites.

MatEdU News will update this post with further info and links to various Symposia or other resources in the race to protect the earth’s critical materials.

Chippewa Valley Technical College Offers Additive Manufacturing Symposium

In this Additive Manufacturing virtual symposium, on Friday, November 6th, Mahmood Lahroodi and team have set up a morning of packed-sessions on what is happening in the world of advanced 3D printing. Here’s a look at tomorrow’s agenda:

You can join the event by clicking here starting at 9am Central time. Here are some of the advanced sessions you can join tomorrow for free:

  • Introduction by Mahmood Lahroodi-CVTC
  • Reviewing NSF-DREAM Website by Hans Mikelson-CVTC
  • Advancements in Metal 3D Printers by Terry Cambron-Desktop Metal
  • From Powder to Performance by Dr. Pradeep Bhattad-Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset in AM by Rick and Sarah Heuer – Heuer Studios
  • Metal 3D Printer by Ryan Prigge-Productivity
  • Reverse Engineering using Additive Manufacturing  by Joe Vydrzal

The symposium comes via the NSF-funded Developing Resources for Enhancing Additive Manufacturing (DREAM) project (#1902501). The project has two major goals:

  1. Prepare technicians for manufacturing and engineering through applied education of additive manufacturing processes and concepts.
  2. Increase the capacity of rural secondary teachers to provide instruction in additive manufacturing.

MatEdU News also will share some other project information on its sister site, AM News, under the TEAMM project. We have an upcoming post that goes deeper on the technician education aspects, including details on the five additive manufacturing modules that support the Manufacturing Engineering Technologist and Mechanical Design associate degree programs at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC).

The modules cross over our work here in Materials Science and Education as well as more advanced topics in training technicians, such as, metal additive manufacturing, design principles, and quality assurance for digital manufacturing. The CVTC facility is also home to a new Fab Lab with a range of 3D printers (including thermoplastic, stereolithography, composite material, and metal 3D printers) and a 3D laser scanner.

You also can view their first symposium (August 2020) on Additive Manufacturing on YouTube.

The session that dives deeper into materials science is from Dr. Pradeep Bhattad, business development manager of ZEISS Additive Manufacturing Process and Control at ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions. He also is collaborating with Oak Ridge National Lab’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and will be sharing about the quality aspect of 3D printed parts (hint: That means materials). A recent article, Producing Additively Manufactured Parts, in Quality Magazine gives a glimpse into his talk on powder-based 3D printing.

Materials Education (MatEdU) Improves And Expands As Online Resource Center

Screenshot of Materials Education homepage

Hey, we’re back. Actually, we never left, but MaterialsEducation.org (MatEdU) is now a National Science Foundation-funded project. We recently received a new NSF grant award to continue our work for another three years with a similar, but enhanced charter.

 

MatEdU is and has been focused on building a national repository, a resource center for materials technology education that creates and compiles instructional resources for the Materials Science (MatSci) community. For those of you who have used our site, you have downloaded and used our wide variety of instructional materials including labs, hands-on demonstrations, modules and papers, which are then integrated into a variety of courses, classroom settings, and even in industry. Through peer reviewed and classroom tested efforts, the MatEdU collection continued to improve and grow.

 

The world of materials science continues to radically influence how we develop technology solutions, across almost every aspect of the material world. We are each witnessing these breakthroughs in new nanoscale, biological, smart, and composite materials. 

 

Serving Materials Science Technicians & Workers

 

The long-term goal of the project is to ensure that materials technology education meets industry standards and produces technicians who are well prepared for work across different manufacturing sectors. To achieve this goal, the project will develop and share online resources to support the materials technological education of students and incumbent workers.

 

For this new project, MatEdU will continue to improve and expand national access to an online collection of high-quality instructional resources including competency-based modules, presentations, labs, and demonstrations; to implement dissemination strategies that promote increased awareness of online resources, support partnerships, and expand strategic opportunities for the materials science education community; and to leverage the expertise of collaborating national partners to achieve strategic scalability of instructional resources. 

 

During this project, technician skill gaps will be identified, instructional modules that address the skill gaps will be developed, and a handbook on materials technology education will be  expanded through a joint effort of network members. The project evaluation will provide insights on how the instructional resources impact materials science education. 

 

MatEdU News launches

 

In addition, as we have done with our sister project, TEAMM, where we created the AM News page to capture and promote the work of national partners and allies, MatEdU is launching the Materials “MatEdU News” page to do some of the same specifically within materials science and education. Please share MatEdU News with your colleagues and students or any professional who has a deep interest in materials. Stay tuned for more updates and news. 

 

This project is funded by the NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, DUE #2000347, that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation’s economy.