Materials Engineers Career Information
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Nature of the WorkMaterials engineers are
involved in the extraction, development, processing, and testing of the materials
used to create a diversity of products, from computer chips and television screens
to golf clubs and snow skis. They work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors,
and combinations of materials called composites to create new materials that
meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.
They also are involved in selecting materials for new applications.
There are numerous new developments within materials engineering that make it possible to manipulate and use materials in various ways. For example, materials engineers have developed the ability to create and then study materials at an atomic level using advanced processes, electrons, neutrons, or x-rays and to replicate the characteristics of materials and their components with computers.
Materials engineers specializing in metals can be considered metallurgical engineers, while those specializing in ceramics can be considered ceramic engineers. Most metallurgical engineers work in one of the three main branches of metallurgy-extractive or chemical, physical, and process. Extractive metallurgists are concerned with removing metals from ores and refining and alloying them to obtain useful metal. Physical metallurgists study the nature, structure, and physical properties of metals and their alloys, and relate them to the methods of processing them into final products. Process metallurgists develop and improve metalworking processes such as casting, forging, rolling, and drawing. Ceramic engineers develop ceramic materials and the processes for making ceramic materials into useful products. Ceramics include all nonmetallic, inorganic materials that generally require high temperatures in their processing. Ceramic engineers work on products as diverse as glassware, automobile and aircraft engine components, fiber-optic communication lines, tile, and electric insulators.
EmploymentMaterials engineers held about 33,000 jobs in 2009. Because materials are building blocks for other goods, materials engineers are widely distributed among manufacturing industries. In fact, 84 percent of materials engineers worked in manufacturing industries, primarily metal production and processing, electronic and other electrical equipment, transportation equipment, and industrial machinery and equipment. They also worked in services industries such as engineering and management and research and testing services. Most remaining materials engineers worked for Federal and State governments.
of materials engineers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for
all occupations through 2010.
More materials engineers will be needed to develop new materials for electronics
and plastics products. However, many of the manufacturing industries in which
materials engineers are concentrated-such as primary metals and stone, clay,
and glass products-are expected to experience declines in employment, reducing
employment opportunities for materials engineers. As firms contract out to meet
their materials engineering needs, however, employment growth is expected in
many services industries, including research and testing, personnel supply,
health, and engineering and architectural services. In addition to growth, job
openings will result from the need to replace materials engineers who transfer
to other occupations or leave the labor force.
EarningsMedian annual earnings of materials engineers were $59,100 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,320 and $72,900. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,630.
According to a 2009 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's degree candidates in materials engineering received starting offers averaging $49,936 a year.
Related OccupationsEngineers apply the principles of physical science and mathematics in their work. Other workers who use scientific and mathematical principles include architects, except landscape and naval; engineering and natural sciences managers; computer and information systems managers; computer programmers; computer software engineers; mathematicians; drafters; engineering technicians; sales engineers; science technicians; and physical and life scientists, including agricultural and food scientists, biological scientists, conservation scientists and foresters, atmospheric scientists, chemists and materials scientists, environmental scientists and hydrologists, geoscientists, and physicists and astronomers.
Sources of Additional Information