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  • Hi Best,

    Materials engineering/materials science is more about understanding the fundamentals of materials themselves and how/why they perform the way they do.  It says at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that “Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.” (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/materials-engineers.htm)  If you pursue a materials engineering (or materials science) degree you'll likely take classes about crystalline and amorphous materials, heat treating, thermodynamics, phase diagrams, transport theory (heat and mass, though not as intense as in ChemE), mechanics of materials, and you may take classes on different types of materials such as metals, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, biomedical materials, etc.  I use my materials science knowledge at NASA to study the durability of spacecraft materials in the space environment.  For example, I use many of the laboratory techniques I learned during my B.S. & M.S. materials science courses, such as optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and tensile testing, for my spaceflight experiments to study the degradation of materials after space exposure.  This knowledge is then used to help engineers design more durable spacecraft.

    Chemical engineering (ChemE) seems to be more about understanding the processes involved in making large-scale manufacturing.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics say that “Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.” (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/chemical-engineers.htm)  From what I understand, there is more chemistry and math involved in ChemE than materials science & engineering.  

    Perhaps another general way to look at it could be that materials science & engineering is typically more research/testing laboratory work, and chemical engineering is typically more large scale manufacturing/processing work.

    I think showing a true interest in either engineering discipline in your personal statement will be a benefit to you, and help you get into a good university.  I did not pick my major in materials science until the end of my sophomore year at Michigan State University, after I learned some about the field.  So, don’t feel that showing an interest in one engineering discipline over another will lock you into a degree and career path.  You have plenty of time to explore, and chose a particular field once you’ve started your college studies.

    I hope this helps & good luck!

    Kim

  • Hi Kelly,

    Materials engineering/materials science is more about understanding the fundamentals of materials themselves and how/why they perform the way they do.  As it says at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that “Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.” (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/materials-engineers.htm)  You'll take classes on crystalline materials (many materials are crystalline), defects in crystals (how they happen, what they exist, and why they're important), heat treating, thermodynamics, phase diagrams, transport theory (heat and mass, though not as intense as in ChemE), mechanics of materials, and you can take classes on different types of materials such as metals, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, biomedical materials, etc.  I use my materials science knowledge at NASA to study the durability of spacecraft materials in the space environment.  For example, I use many of the laboratory techniques I learned during my BS & MS materials science courses, such as optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and tensile testing, for studying the degradation of materials after space exposure.

    Chemical engineering (ChemE) seems to be more about understanding the processes involved in making large-scale manufacturing.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics say that “Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.” (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/chemical-engineers.htm)  From what I understand, there is more chemistry and math involved in ChemE than materials science & engineering.

    Yes, it was easy for me to get a job as a material engineer!  I believe materials engineers are in pretty high demand.

    The medium pay for material engineering in 2014 was $88,000/yr and for chemical engineering was $97,000/yr (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

    When I was considering what engineering discipline to go into at Michigan State University, I took a 1 credit course that was very helpful to me at “Introduction to Careers in Engineering.” During this class the chairman of the Department of Materials Science showed us a piece of special wire, called shape memory alloy, which he crumpled into a ball. Then he heated it with a lighter and it “magically” formed into a perfect coil.  I found the material fascinating and decided to try materials science as a career based on taking this course, and ended up loving all my materials science classes.   I recommend that you try take a similar class if one is available to you.  As an alternative, you could consider taking an introductory class in both materials engineering and ChemE, as both classes would likely provide good background knowledge for any engineering discipline.

    Good luck!!

    Kim

  • Hi Kelsey,
    
    It is interesting that you asked me, because I also do not enjoy working with chemicals very much!  Yes, I think there is a pretty substantial difference between materials science and chemical engineering.  Back when I was studying materials, we primarily studied metals (metallurgy) and also ceramics.  Lab’s included things like:  looking at the microstructure of polished metals under an optical microscope (which you might need to etch with an acid, but that is easy enough); doing tensile testing (where you get to pull apart a “dog-bone” shaped sample until it breaks); doing impact testing (where you swing a heavy lever at a sample & it breaks in half in a dramatic way); measuring the hardness of a material, etc.  My favorite lab work is using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to take very high magnification images of materials, which can sometimes looks like little forests or mountains.  Some of my space exposed polymer SEM images actually remind me of outer space scenes.
    
    Modern materials science will include other types of materials like composites (two types of materials together) and possibly polymers (plastics).    
    
    If your school has a materials science department, I suggest you go talk to the Chairman and learn a little bit about their program.  Maybe you can sit in on a class or two.  Or, try to shadow a materials engineer for a day.
    
    Good luck, and send back any other questions!
    
    Kim
    
  • Hi Sarah! My name is Kim de Groh and I am a Sr. Materials Research Engineer at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland Ohio. I have been conducting research art NASA for 20 years :). Ill try to answer your questions from my experience. When I was in high school, I also loved math - it was my favorite subject (in addition to art). I took a chemistry class and (I think) a physics class my senior year in high school (oh - so many years ago), but I actually didnt do very well in those classes when I was in high school. But, since I did well enjoyed math, while in high school I thought of getting a math degree. When I first attended the university, I signed up for a science math based residential college called Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University. At Lyman Briggs I started taking chemistry physics classes, along with math, right away as a freshmen, and I found that I really liked those college courses (different topics better teachers than my high school classes). But, after my first college calculus class I decided that I did not want to major in math (too theoretical). Because I was really enjoying my atomic physics and chemistry classes, but I also liked math art, I decided to get an engineering degree. If you choose any science/engineering based major it will be beneficial to have chemistry and physics classes in high school, but I dont think they are necessary, in that you can take them as a freshman as part of your core curriculum classes at college, prior to starting your major subject courses (which usually start your junior year). So, if you dont have Physics AP in high school, you can take the required physics classes while at college. On the other hand, if you do take chemistry (and physics) in high school, and dont major in those fields its still good because youll need basic chemistry physics for pretty much all engineering disciplines. One thing I did that was really helpful, and I advise you to try to do - if it is an option, is to take an introductory class into different engineering careers. It was through taking a one credit Introduction to Engineering Careers class that I was introduced to the different types of engineering careers and first heard about materials science, which I thought sounded really interesting. So I decided to try materials science as my major, and loved my classes the related research, and I love my materials work here at NASA! Another very helpful thing for me was to get summer jobs in my field, as this helped confirm my interest in getting a degree in materials. Perhaps as a high school senior, you could try shadowing different engineers in your area to learn about different engineering disciplines, and the types of tasks they do. I hope I helped answer your questions. Id be happy to answer any more you might have. Good luck! Kim
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