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Materials Science Careers

Career Description

Materials Scientists research and study the structures and chemical properties of various natural and manmade materials,  including metals, alloys, rubber, ceramics, semiconductors, polymers, and glass. Determine ways to strengthen or combine materials or develop new materials with new or specific properties for use in a variety of products and applications. Include glass scientists, ceramic scientists, metallurgical scientists, and polymer scientists.

Common Work Tasks

  • Investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter and the laws that govern the combination of elements and reactions of substances to each other
  • Create new products and processes or improve existing ones, often using knowledge gained from basic research
  • Work in production and quality control in chemical manufacturing plants
  • Prepare instructions for plant workers that specify ingredients, mixing times, and temperatures for each stage in the process
  • Monitor automated processes to ensure proper product yield and test samples of raw materials or finished products to ensure that they meet industry and government standards, including regulations governing pollution
  • Develop analytical techniques and study the relationships and interactions among the parts of compounds
  • Create new compounds or substances that have different properties and applications
  • Develop new materials to improve existing products or make new ones

Other Job Titles

Materials scientists are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Analytical Chemists
  • Organic Chemists
  • Materials Chemists
  • Physical Scientists

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related discipline usually is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level materials scientist jobs.  While some materials scientists hold a degree in materials science, degrees in chemistry, physics, or electrical engineering are also common. Most research jobs in chemistry and materials science require a master’s degree or, more frequently, a Ph.D.

Because chemists and materials scientists are increasingly expected to work on interdisciplinary teams, some understanding of other disciplines, including business and marketing or economics, is desirable, along with leadership ability and good oral and written communication skills. Interaction among specialists in this field is increasing, especially for specialty chemists in drug development. One type of chemist often relies on the findings of another type of chemist. For example,  an organic chemist must understand findings on the identity of compounds prepared by an analytical chemist.

Experience, either in academic laboratories or through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in industry, also is useful. Some employers of research chemists, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, prefer to hire individuals with several years of postdoctoral experience.


The median annual salary of a Materials Scientist is $76,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $119,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $43,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of materials scientists are:

  • Scientific Research and Development Services  - $84,790
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises - $81,150
  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing - $70,520
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services  - $79,240
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools  - $57,900

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  9%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 800
  • Employment 2006 : 9,700
  • Employment 2016:  11,000
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