What is a materials scientist?
A materials scientist is someone who analyses the structure, properties and function of a range of materials. Their work isn’t solely restricted to natural materials, they also research artificial materials. Materials they typically work with include metals, ceramics, glass and plastic.
To build a comprehensive picture of a material’s components, they look at the materials science tetrahedron. These are the four main, interconnected components of materials science: performance (strength, resistance to wear), processing (how the raw material becomes a finished product), properties (size, shape) and structure (how the material holds up).
This understanding of the material is used by different industries (healthcare, manufacturing, energy to name a few) to help them figure out if a material already in use needs to be replaced, or which materials are best for a specific product.
What are the typical responsibilities of a materials scientist?
Day to day responsibilities include:
- Designing computer models and experiments to see how a material responds to force, extreme temperatures and other variables
- Preparing technical reports and manuals so others can understand the product
- Liaising with company representatives to understand their goals for their products
- Testing individual components and finished products to ensure they’re working properly
- Researching ways to strengthen existing materials and products.
What’s the difference between a materials scientist and a materials engineer?
Materials scientists focus more on researching and testing materials to find the most effective ones, while materials engineers focus on building and maintaining materials.
What skills do I need to be a materials scientist?
Organisation is key, to keep up to date with industry regulations and incorporate the company’s wishes for their products.
Perseverance is important, to deal with setbacks like a material not passing safety tests or a company updating the requirements for their products.
Finally, written and verbal communication skills are a good idea. These will come in handy when you’re explaining your research process, writing reports and working with industry professionals.
How do I become a materials scientist?
You can complete an apprenticeship, or do a degree. An apprenticeship like the Level 6 Materials Science Technologist degree apprenticeship allows you to gain hands-on experience in the field, and work towards a fully funded qualification. A few universities offer material science degrees, but you can also do a degree in a related subject like chemistry or physics. Postgraduate study would also help you stand out from the crowd.