In Summary - Materials Scientist / Technologist
Materials Scientist / Technologists typically work in the following Career Sectors:
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The Work - Materials Scientist / Technologist
Modern society is constantly evolving and so too is the development of advanced materials such as lightweight composites for transport applications, optical fibres for telecommunications and silicon microchips for the information revolution.
Materials scientists and technologists are the people behind these developments - they study materials and their uses, working with an enormous range of materials, from basic matter like atoms and molecules, to metals, plastics, cement, glass, sand and electronics, towards determining ways to strengthen or combine materials and develop new products. They also try to enhance existing products.
Scientists and technologists find out how materials react to different conditions, including temperature and pressure, and try to improve their performance. They may produce written reports of their findings.
In many industries, high performance materials are vital; for example, metals used in aircraft must be strong, light, and reliable. Scientists test metals at high temperatures to simulate conditions in the aircraft's engines. They do routine tests to identify defects and failures in the craft. They adopt a forensic approach, searching for subtle evidence of corrosion or weakness in metals.
Oil refineries use high temperatures and pressures. These can cause corrosion, with the risk of liquids and gases leaking into the environment. Because corrosion may only be visible at a late stage, scientists constantly monitor for clues. They may research longer-lasting or stress-resistant materials, keeping up-to-date with advances in technology throughout the world.
Materials scientists and technologists may work in engineering. For example, they help to design aircraft, oil refineries and nuclear power plants. They must take into account the cost and availability of materials, and the need to develop new ones.
In the nuclear industry, they investigate defects in the structure of buildings and advise on welding and techniques like thermal lagging. They support and advise engineering staff, and supervise repairs.
Materials scientists work to strict standards, including government and European Union legislation. Some work as project leaders in industry, developing materials that meet or surpass fire safety regulations. They use X-rays to analyse the internal effects of extreme temperatures on materials like metal and glass.
Material sciences in industry may visit international customers to find out their technical requirements, or to explain the latest technological developments.
Materials scientists investigate properties, composition and structure of matter and the laws that govern the combination of elements and reaction of substances. Chemistry plays a dominant role in materials science as it provides information about the structure and composition on matter.
Most commonly reported Work Tasks
- Conduct research on the structures and properties of materials, such as metals, alloys, polymers, and ceramics, to obtain information that could be used to develop new products or enhance existing ones.
- Prepare reports, manuscripts, proposals, and technical manuals for use by other scientists and requestors, such as sponsors and customers.
- Perform experiments and computer modeling to study the nature, structure, and physical and chemical properties of metals and their alloys, and their responses to applied forces.
- Plan laboratory experiments to confirm feasibility of processes and techniques used in the production of materials having special characteristics.
- Determine ways to strengthen or combine materials or develop new materials with new or specific properties for use in a variety of products and applications.
- Teach in colleges and universities.
- Devise testing methods to evaluate the effects of various conditions on particular materials.
- Research methods of processing, forming, and firing materials to develop such products as ceramic dental fillings, unbreakable dinner plates, and telescope lenses.
- Confer with customers to determine how to tailor materials to their needs.
- Recommend materials for reliable performance in various environments.
Most commonly reported Work Activities
- Getting Information Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
- Analyzing Data or Information Identifying the underlying principles, reasons, or facts of information by breaking down information or data into separate parts.
- Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.
- Interacting With Computers Using computers and computer systems (including hardware and software) to program, write software, set up functions, enter data, or process information.
- Thinking Creatively Developing, designing, or creating new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products, including artistic contributions.
- Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
- Making Decisions and Solving Problems Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
- Documenting/Recording Information Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form.
- Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
- Processing Information Compiling, coding, categorizing, calculating, tabulating, auditing, or verifying information or data.
Interests - Materials Scientist / Technologist
This occupation is typically suited for people with the following Career Interests:
The Investigative person will usually find a particular area of science to be of interest. They are inclined toward intellectual and analytical activities and enjoy observation and theory. They may prefer thought to action, and enjoy the challenge of solving problems with sophiscticated technology. These types prefer mentally stimulating environments and often pay close attention to developments in their chosen field.
Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.
Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
To become a Materials scientist or Technologist you must be interested in the practical use of science, especially maths, physics and chemistry. You will need a patient, methodical and investigative approach to research and development.
Materials scientists and technologists often work in teams with other specialists. You must be able to express your findings clearly, both verbally and in writing, to team members. You will need good interpersonal and communication skills to deal with customer enquiries.
Computer and technology skills are very important in this career. You may look up the properties of a material on a computerised database, use X-rays to examine the internal changes high temperatures cause in metals, or use a simulated environment chamber to test the effects of gaseous pollutants on buildings.
You must be willing to learn and develop new knowledge and keep up-to-date on scientific advances throughout the world. You should like working with your hands, building scientific apparatus, and performing laboratory experiments, and should also like computer modeling.
Entry Requirements - Materials Scientist / Technologist
A bachelor's degree in physics, chemistry, materials science, materials engineering, or a related discipline is typically the minimum educational requirement for entry to this career area. Research jobs will require a master's degree a PhD level qualification.
Several colleges and universities countrywide offer degree programmes in chemistry, physics, and engineering. Degree programmes in materials science and engineering are also available.
Those interested in a career as a materials scientist should consider courses in science and mathematics. In addition to required courses in analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, undergraduate chemistry, subject areas such as biological sciences, mathematics, physics, and increasingly, computer science. Combining chemistry and advanced screening techniques is also popular. Materials scientists end engineers also need basic statistical techniques.
Lab experience, either in academic laboratories or through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in industry, is also valuable. Some employers of materials scientists or engineers, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, prefer to hire individuals with several years of postdoctoral experience.
There are many emerging and growth areas where materials graduates can find career openings including:
- Biomedical materials
- High-performance textiles
- Composites and
- The development of sustainable materials
Last Updated: October, 2014
Pay & Salary - Materials Scientist / Technologist
Salary Range (thousands per year)* 32k - 60k
Last Updated: July, 2015
* The lower figures typically reflect starting salaries. Higher salaries are awarded to those with greater experience and responsibility. Positions in Dublin sometimes command higher salaries.
Labour Market Updates - Materials Scientist / Technologist
Useful Contacts - Materials Scientist / Technologist
European Space Education Resource Office Ireland (ESERO)
Institute of Physics in Ireland