List of 5 Material Engineering Sub-Disciplines

CareerField
4 min readJun 1, 2022

To become a material engineer, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in material engineering. Depending on where you reside and your educational background, this will generally take four to five years. Material engineering is not necessarily the most common engineering program offered at University. It may be offered at a graduate level solely or as a specialization attached to a major. An alternative degree for working as a materials engineer in the future would be chemical engineering or a related degree such as biochemical engineering, process engineering, etc. Material science is also closely related to material engineering even though it is important to note that there is a distinction between a material scientist and a material engineer. The latter is trained to be an engineer and as a result, can become licensed as such. Both can nevertheless occupy very similar positions as they work in collaboration depending on their qualifications and the job requirements.

  1. Biomaterial engineering

Biomaterial engineering deals with materials for biological purposes. Biomaterial engineers play a significant role in engineering materials whose properties are compatible with biological systems for treatment and/or diagnostic purposes. Although not as popular, a degree or specialization in tissue engineering would be a great fit to become a biomaterial engineer. Biomaterial engineers in collaboration with experts from various fields such as medical doctors and scientists are responsible for the science and technology behind medical implants, artificial limbs, and drug delivery.

2. Ceramic engineering

Ceramic engineers design ceramic-based materials, meaning materials derived from non-metallic and inorganic substances that are in turn solidified through heat treatment techniques. The heat resistance property held by ceramics subjects them to investigations by engineers and material scientists. Ceramic engineers aim at optimizing the processes and technology involved in designing ceramics. Ceramic materials are found in the context of automotive, aerospace, biomaterials, electronics, spaceships, and even in our households and kitchenware.

3. Crystal engineering

Engineers use various methods to design crystal structures with principles from hydrogen and coordinating bonding being two commonly used strategies. At a molecular level, crystalline materials have highly ordered configurations. Understanding crystalline structure leads to understanding the behavior or function of crystals in materials such as rocks, ice, or living-organism-generated crystals. Crystal engineers study crystal structures to manipulate the intermolecular interactions at play and bring about specific mechanical properties. This way, they are able to come up with processes and techniques to synthesize crystals with specific properties. Supramolecular gels are only one set example of crystal materials with properties purposely modified by crystal engineers among other experts.

4. Metallurgical engineering

Metallurgical engineers use science and technology to produce metals for consumers and manufacturers. Metallurgical engineering is based on metallurgy which studies the properties of metals as well as their production and purification. Aside from material or chemical engineering, metallurgists can have degrees in science (often physics or chemistry) or material science. Metallurgical engineers work with metals such as steel, aluminum, iron, copper, and alloys to make objects with desirable properties. Materials such as blast furnaces, trip hammers, and cast iron were known to be designed by metallurgists. Currently, when it comes to the design of metallic materials, metallurgy overlaps with fields such as biomaterial science, nanotechnology, electronics, surface engineering, etc.

5. Polymer engineering

Polymer engineers study the properties of polymers. This way they can synthesize properties with desired properties. They also optimize the different steps involved in the process of polymer production. Polymers are big molecules (macromolecules) with repeating subunits. They can be found naturally (protein, nucleic acids, carbohydrate, silk, wool, natural rubber, etc.) or synthetically derived (e.g. nylon, polyethylene, polyester, Teflon, epoxy, etc.). Polymers play a crucial role, not only in our bodies but in our society. Polymer engineers apply their scientific knowledge of polymers to serve us best.

Conclusion

As a material engineer, you can specialize in biomaterial, ceramic, crystal, metallurgical, or polymer engineering. There are also other specialties that involved working with other materials (e.g., composites, glass, industrial minerals, plastics, rubber, textiles, etc.), but only the five subfields abovementioned are explored in this article. You do not always end up working in your desired sub-field depending on the demands and the opportunities that you come across. Not everybody knows right off the bat their industry of preference and their specific engineering branch. It is important to have a solid overview of different sub-domains of your field and be open to seizing options that come your way.

Embrace the surprise. Let us know what you have learned or share with us some interesting facts and stories!

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