Materials Scientists Overview

Manufacturing companies that are outsourcing the in-house materials scientists positions will spur job growth in technical, scientific and professional service firms. While a masters degree or a Ph.D. is required for most research jobs, a bachelors degree in material science, chemistry or a related discipline is the minimum educational requirement. Those with a masters or Ph.D. degree should expect the to enjoy the best opportunities at biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms.

Nature of the Work for Materials Scientists

Materials Scientists

Materials scientists work with chemicals to improve life. Without chemical research the discovery of an array of products would have never occurred, such as paints, synthetic fibers, adhesives, cosmetics, drugs, lubricants, and electronic components. Materials scientists improve oil refining and petrochemical processing that reduce pollution and save energy. They conduct studies of graphite materials, superconducting materials, fuel cells and integrated-circuit chips.

The majority of materials scientists are employed in research and development (R&D). They are concerned with investigating the composition, properties and structure of matter. To apply basic R&D, materials scientists create new processes and products, or improve on existing ones. For example, the research on small molecules uniting to form a large one, polymerization, helped to develop synthetic rubber and plastics. R&D materials scientists use a combination of laboratory instrumentation and computers for simulation, experimental analysis and modeling.

Materials scientists are able to practice more efficient techniques through the development in computer technology. Combinatorial chemistry makes and tests large quantities of chemical properties with the goal of finding those with specific desired qualities. Sometimes, materials scientists use a virtual library consisting of millions of chemicals in order to uncover compounds with certain characteristics. This process allows materials scientists to produce thousands of compounds less expensively and more quickly than before.

As the industry becomes more interdisciplinary, materials scientists will increasingly work in research teams including other scientists, such as physicists, biologists, computer specialists and engineers.

Materials scientists apply the basics of engineering and physics, in addition to chemistry to study all aspects of materials. Although they tend to have a more interdisciplinary background than materials chemists, chemistry remains a central role in materials science because it provides information on the composition and structure of materials.

New products or existing ones are enhances by material scientists who study the chemical properties and structure of an array of materials. It is their aim to figure out ways to combine or strengthen materials used in a wide range of structures and products from cars to clothing. Often, materials scientists are specialists in a particular field.

Materials scientists spend most of their time in laboratories and the rest in offices where they do theoretical research. Generally, materials scientists work regular hours, although sometimes longer hours are required. Depending on the nature of their research, they may be required to work odd hours in laboratories or other locations.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Materials Scientists

Materials scientists usually have a degree in chemistry, physics or electrical engineering. It is more uncommon to hold a degree in materials science because currently only a small number of colleges and universities offer it as a degree program. A masters degree or a Ph.D. is required for most research jobs in materials science.

Employers prefer to hire applicants for materials scientist positions who already have a background in computer skills in order to complete simulation and modeling tasks and to operate computerized laboratory equipment. This is especially important for those involved in advanced screening techniques and combinatorial chemistry. Many materials scientists also take courses in statistics, as they need to be able to apply statistics techniques.

Materials scientists with a broad background are preferred for research positions. They achieve this broad base by obtaining degrees in physics, chemistry and engineering. Some companies will hire materials scientists with a bachelors degree or masters degree, although most prefer to hire applicants with a Ph.D.

R&D materials scientists need to have an understanding of multiple disciplines, such as marketing or business, to work more effectively in interdisciplinary teams, as well as having strong written and oral communication skills and leadership ability.

Employers prefer to hire materials scientist candidates who have experience, either by completing a fellowship, internship or work-study program in industry. Other employers of research materials scientists prefer to hire applicants with several years of postdoctoral experience.

When materials scientists advance in their career, they usually gain larger budgets and greater independence in their work. Other choose to pursue a career in management, spending more time preparing schedules and budgets and setting research strategy. A materials scientist who develops a new product might for their own company or become employed at new firms to develop these ideas.

Top 10 Most Popular Materials Science Schools

1. University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)
2. University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
4. Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
5. Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus (University Park, Pennsylvania)
6. Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)
7. University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)
8. University of Massachusetts, Amherst (Amherst, Massachusetts)
9. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
10. University at Albany, The State University of New York (Albany, New York)

See All Materials Science Schools

Online School: Arizona State University - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Materials Scientists

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average (increase 3 - 6%).

Employment for materials scientists is expected to grow 3 percent within the next decade, which is slower than average for all occupations. Though the employment in chemical manufacturing firms for materials scientists is expected to grow by 12 percent as manufacturers seek to improve the quality of the product by using new manufacturing processes and materials.

Earnings and Salary for Materials Scientists

The median annual wage of materials scientists is $80,300. The highest 10 percent earns more than $125,760, while the lowest 10 percent earns less than $43,820. The middle 50 percent earns between $59,810 and $102,840.

Annual Salary for Materials Scientists

On average, Materials Scientists earn $80,300 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $43,820/yr $59,810/yr $102,840/yr $125,760/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook