What is MSE?
Materials scientists and engineers seek to understand and control
the basic structure of materials in order to make the products of
technology stronger, lighter, brighter, safer, faster and better suited
to human needs. Every part in your car and every piece of your computer
are carefully selected to optimize performance and cost effectiveness.
Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is the discipline devoted to
helping human beings use materials more effectively and efficiently.
The story of materials is an ancient one that began with humanity
learning to shape rock and work metal. From that prehistoric beginning,
the story of human advances in materials continues to unfold. For
example, the development of steels permitted the building of
skyscrapers and suspension bridges; advances in silicon based
technology provided the foundation for electronics and computers, and
new biomaterials have resulted in medical breakthroughs that save and
improve lives. Materials scientists and engineers focus on the
manipulation of atomic scale structure to change materials properties.
This focus has pushed our discipline to the forefront of developing and
applying new tools to observe and manipulate matter at the smallest
scales. These advances continue to play an important part in the
emergence of fields such as nanotechnology at the beginning of the 21st
The future of humanity depends on our wise use of materials
Most of the technological innovations that we associate with contemporary life have involved some major advance in materials processing or application. Automobiles, satellites, televisions, computers and DVD players all would not be possible without advances in polymers, ceramics, metals and semiconductors. New advances are being pioneered in our laboratories. For example:
The dire threat of global warming and dwindling fossil fuel resources have made the efficient use of energy a priority. MSE faculty and students work actively to make light-weight engine components out of aluminum and magnesium in order to boost fuel efficiency. They also pioneer improved high-temperature materials that are important for efficient jet engines and electricity generation.
To restore hearing to deaf people and sight to blind people prosthetic devices must make contact between the brain and a microphone or camera. MSE faculty and students work to find ways to interface silicon technology to neural tissue. This requires the development of coatings that are biocompatible and electrically conducting.
Moore's law states that the number of transistors on the latest computer chip doubles approximately every 18 months. This translates into more memory and faster, cheaper computers. But there is a limit to the density of transistors that can be placed on a computer chip using current technology. MSE faculty and students develop methods to spontaneously generate structures a few tens to hundreds of atoms across to form the basis for quantum computers. These next generation computers will exploit the physics of quantum confinement that dominate at that tiny scale.
Making components out of new materials often involves an extensive cycle of design, creation, testing and redesign. This process is costly and time consuming. MSE faculty and students develop computer simulation techniques to predict material behavior such as resistance to failure, stability, and high temperature formability. These computing advances speed the way toward the introduction of new materials in a safe and cost-effective manner.
There are many more examples of how MSE faculty and students at UM advance human capability and benefit society. These include work in developing conductive plastics, glassy metals, nano-structured materials, and materials for use in solar cells and solid-state lasers.
Building on a solid foundation and bridging many fields
Course work in the MSE department emphasizes the relationship between how a material is processed, its structure and the resulting properties and is built on a firm grounding in physics and chemistry. Hands-on learning and access to sophisticated instrumentation allow students to gain valuable experience in characterizing materials structure and properties. Because materials enable new products and technologies, it is nearly impossible to find an engineering discipline that does not interface in some way with Materials Science and Engineering. This is especially true for mechanical, aerospace, electrical, chemical and biomedical engineering where dual majors are often pursued.
Michigan's Tradition of Excellence: Pioneering Materials in America
The MSE department at the University of Michigan is the oldest continuing metallurgy/materials program in the United States, dating back more than 105 years, and was the first program in the nation to offer degrees in the field of Materials Engineering. The department is consistently ranked one of the top 10 undergraduate and graduate programs of MSE in the country. Our research and instructional laboratories are some of the best in the country and include the new L. H. Van Vlack Undergraduate Laboratory which is devoted to hands-on laboratory and computational instruction. The MSE department is a learning community steeped in tradition and always ready to explore exciting new approaches to education and research.