"The fact that new materials play a major role in driving new technologies led me to choose materials research." PROFESSOR MARCELA BILEK, RESEARCHER, SCHOOL OF PHYSICS, THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY

Materials scientists delve inside materials and figure them out from the atom upwards. It's a burgeoning and essential area of research, which allows us to understand how the molecular and atomic structure of a material relates to its properties.

Materials science is one of the most exciting career areas in science, particularly because it brings together expertise from many disciplines. Chemists, physicists, imaging specialists, biologists, biochemists and medical researchers are all involved in different types of materials science, going beyond merely analysing materials to creating new materials with new properties.

Career opportunities in materials science can be found in industry, research organisations, universities, private companies and hospitals, with materials being investigated and designed for a huge array of applications – everything we touch is made from some sort of material, whether man-made or naturally occurring or a combination of the two.

The best foundation for a career in materials science is through learning the basic sciences, which can be done through degrees like physics, engineering or chemistry. Once armed with a broad base of scientific knowledge, you can focus on more specific skills that are or will be in demand by the industry. And the future job outlook in this sector is bright, as the continued need for new materials and changes to existing materials is expected to keep the demand for trained materials scientists growing.

The materials sector is a big money area with research attracting substantial funding and offering huge potential for commercialisation. Using nanotechnology techniques and quantum science, work on materials is at the forefront of cutting edge science.

From designing new materials to investigating the fundamental properties of existing materials to forensic failure analysis of materials in machinery and building applications, there are hugely diverse approaches and opportunities in materials science.

Materials scientists investigate crystalline materials such as metals, minerals and ceramics; polymers such as plastics, rubbers and elastomers; and amorphous solids such as glass and some plastics. Materials scientists investigate and manipulate properties such as strength, density, thermal and electrical conductivity, magnetics, phase transformation, and optical and quantum properties.

Imaging of materials to study their structure is also an important part of materials research, and requires specialists to use techniques such as electron microscopy, neutron diffraction, x-ray diffraction, x-ray scattering, calorimetry and atom probe tomography.

Australia was ranked 15th in the world in 2011 in terms of national output of materials science and technology research papers indexed in Thomson Reuters Web of Science over the previous five year period. Such strength in materials science in Australia for our relatively small population is remarkable, with the Thomson Reuters ranking placing Australia ahead of technically focused countries such as Sweden, Singapore, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

The materials science sector has an exciting future as new types of materials and techniques for analysing them open up new fields of enquiry.

For example, innovations in the rapidly growing area of advanced materials include nanoporous materials that can store hydrogen for 'clean' energy use, crystal lattices that shrink when heated for use in building and engineering applications, and nanosphere capsules that can deliver drugs to specific areas of the body.

New fields of materials science emerge constantly and offer a huge choice of career opportunities, which will shape the future of our material world.


Average salary:

$80,000 and salaries go upwards for management roles.


Industry bodies

Courses to consider

Consider enrolling in one of the following courses and majors to prepare yourself for a career in Materials science.

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