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.