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Applications of Physics: Materials Science

Materials science is concerned with the relationship between the structure and properties of materials. Those who work in the field study how different combinations of molecules and materials result in different properties and use this knowledge to synthesize new materials.  Few of the novel ideas in material science generate successful products either because of the science or because of the economics of bringing the idea to market. Nonetheless, materials science is one of the hottest career areas. It unites applications from many scientific disciplines: chemistry, physics, engineering and recently biology. Materials scientists are employed by companies whose products are made of metals, ceramics, and rubber; they work in the coatings (developing new varieties of paint) and biologics industries (designing materials that are compatible with human tissues for prosthetics and implants). Other applications of materials science include studies of superconducting materials, graphite materials, integrated-circuit chips, and fuel cells. Materials science is so interdisciplinary that preparation in a number of related areas is important. Good verbal and written communication skills are required since most materials scientists work in teams with people in other disciplines.

For more information:
See also:  ACS careers site

Recommended electives in Materials Science

C 101 Introduction to Chemistry I
C 102 Introduction to Chemistry II
C 103 Introduction to Chemistry Lab
P 318 Scattering Methods in Materials Science
P 340 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
C 360 Physical Chemistry
C 361 Physical Chemistry of Bulk Matter
P 364 Measurements in Physical Chemistry
P 410 Computational physics
M 415 Complex analysis
M 441 Partial Differential Equations I
M 442 Partial Differential Equations II
P 453 Quantum Mechanics
P 464 Measurements in Physical Chemistry
P 475 Introduction to Biophysics

Career opportunities

With a BS in Physics and a concentration in materials science, you may find employment at

  • Marketing professional
  • Small business manager
  • Chemical technician
  • Technologist
  • Secondary teacher
  • Assistant researcher
  • Industry (electronics, computer)
  • Government
  • Academia

In 2009, about 42 percent of all chemists and material scientists were employed in manufacturing firms—mostly in the chemical manufacturing industry. Firms in this industry produce plastics and synthetic materials, drugs, soaps and cleaners, pesticides and fertilizers, paint, industrial organic chemicals, and other chemical products. About 18 percent of chemists and material scientists worked in scientific research and development services; 9 percent worked in testing labs. Companies whose products are made of metals, ceramics, plastics, and rubber employ most materials scientists.

For useful career information, see the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook