What is Materials Science and Engineering?

Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) applies the tools of basic and applied sciences and engineering to the manufacturing and application of materials and devices. Every technology, from the first wheel of the past to the first 3D printed heart of the future, depends on materials development and innovation.

Materials science tetrehedron

MSE aims to determine and exploit the connection between the processing, structure, and properties of materials; by doing so, engineers can develop materials that fit the performance criteria for specific applications, which are useful for the technological needs of our society. In addition to this product-specific knowledge, MSE is concerned with the implications of materials production and their sustainable use on the environment and energy resources.

Pillars of innovation

Materials scientists bring the following four pillars together to drive innovation.

Round disc showing microstructure in various colors


The way in which the constituents of a material are arranged at different length scales.

Can we predict how a material will behave in high temperatures? Professor Gregory Rohrer developed a new microscopy technique that maps material microstructure in three dimensions. This enabled him to distinguish how grain boundaries move differently in nickel polycrystals when heated. His findings demonstrated that the 70-year-old model used to predict material microstructure doesn't work for today’s advanced materials. Learn more about this research.

Diamonds and spheres icon


Anything measurable about a material: color, density, conductivity, strength, etc. A physical property is the relationship between two measurable qualities.

What are the physical properties of materials and how do they serve applications? Professor Lisa Porter has developed novel methods for the processing of gallium oxide, a promising wide bandgap semiconductor. The materials might one day serve as advanced electronic materials for future energy applications, devices for extreme environments, high efficiency electronics, and nanotechnology. Learn more about this research.



Every way the material is changed from casting to rolling, annealing to film deposition.

How can we transform and integrate materials in applications? Professor Mike McHenry found that strain annealing soft magnetic amorphous ribbons under tension and then reannealing them can lead to as much as a 50% magnetic loss reduction in his patented material. This allows higher power densities to be achieved in their alloys and makes them an attractive material for high-speed motor applications. His team is looking to build high-power motors that could one day be used in Naval submarines or NASA spaceships. Learn more about this research.

Girl exercising wearing soft material technology


How well a material functions in its intended role.

How can we push the limits of how materials can be applied? Professor Mohammad Islam developed Exoform, a compact, customizable, semi-rigid, wearable material with self-fusing edges for immediate, adjustable, and repeatable use. The material can mold to individual bodies when heated but stores flat, saving nearly 95% of the volume taken up by the assembled cast. Exoform's level of accessibiity means that future wearable devices can be tailored to fit users’ needs without leaving anyone behind. Learn more about this research.

This paradigm is applied to four broad classes of materials: metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites.