What is Materials Science and Engineering?

Flexible Photonic Device

A flexible photonic device developed in Professor Juejun Hu's Photonic Materials Group.

Engineering disciplines focus on addressing human problems by constructing tools and shaping solutions. Materials science and engineering (MSE) does so by studying, understanding, designing, and producing the materials those tools and solutions are made of – and on creating new materials that serve human needs.

Materials science and engineering combines the power of intellectual curiosity and scientific discovery with the tangible impact of engineering disciplines. By integrating approaches from diverse academic and engineering specialties that range from physics and biology to metallurgy and ceramics, MSE addresses complex problems through a materials-focused approach. This deeply interdisciplinary field encompasses nearly every form of matter — from the atom-by-atom construction of nanomaterials and the directed growth of biological substances to the forging of heat-treated steel.

Impact Everywhere

Because materials comprise everything around us, improving those materials—and creating new ones — has broad and significant downstream impact. Every product we develop and every material used in that product’s manufacture has social, economic, and environmental implications. For example, battery technology that enables long-term, efficient energy storage could greatly reduce harmful emissions by increasing the viability of sustainable sources, such as wind and solar, that experience only intermittent periods of high energy production. Similarly, metals production accounts for more than five percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Developing improved production methods – or alternative materials that generate less CO– could result in dramatic economic and environmental benefits.

Materials scientists and engineers have a keen understanding of the connection between choices made in the laboratory and their resulting ripple effects. In working to develop everything from enhanced energy harvesting materials and innovative medical devices to sustainable building materials, they make vital contributions toward a healthier, safer, and more productive world.

Recent Advances in MSE

Toward new, computationally designed cybersteels

With a grant from the Office of Naval Research, MIT researchers aim to design novel high-performance steels, with potential applications including printed aircraft components and ship hulls.