What they do
Materials engineers investigate, develop, process and test ceramics, chemicals, polymers, metals and other materials. By examining the way various materials behave and are formed at the atomic level, materials engineers are able to improve their existing properties, and create entirely new substances. They investigate cases of material failure, finding ways to extend the life of these materials and protect them against deterioration, while maximising strength and durability. The materials they develop are used in the manufacture of everything, from simple objects, such as pencils and clothing, to more advanced products, such as computer chips, bullet proof vests and aircraft engine components.
Materials engineers may work in manufacturing plants, laboratories or offices. They generally work regular office hours, though shift work may be required in some positions. This is a rapidly changing field, with regular advances in technologies requiring materials engineers to be continuously learning. Materials engineers must work to strict safety and quality control requirements, to ensure products are not dangerous and will behave in the same way under identical, real world conditions.
Tools and technologies
Materials engineers use a variety of scientific and laboratory equipment in their research, including specially designed, high-powered microscopes which allow them to examine materials at the atomic level. They also use a wide range of technologies to test materials they have developed. Testing could include using a sealed chamber and certain gasses to test a product's resistance to pollution, using x-rays to examine any internal changes, as well as a huge array of other tests to determine how materials will behave in the real world, before they enter general production.
How do I become one?
Education and training
To become a materials engineer, you usually need to study a degree in engineering, majoring in chemical, metallurgical or material engineering. You may need to complete postgraduate study to specialise in materials engineering.
Most universities in Western Australia offer relevant courses. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.