What is Materials Science – Definition

Materials science and engineering is interdisciplinar and very important branch of study, which deals with the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids.

Materials science and engineering is interdisciplinar and very important branch of study, which deals with the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids. Materials science is one of the oldest forms of engineering and applied science and The material of choice of a given era is often a defining point (e.g. Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age). The intellectual origins of materials science stem from the Enlightenment, when researchers began to use analytical thinking from chemistry, physics, and engineering to understand ancient, phenomenological observations in metallurgy and mineralogy. Sometimes it is useful to subdivide the discipline of materials science and engineering into materials science and materials engineering subdisciplines. The discipline of materials science involves investigating the relationships that exist between the structures and properties of materials. In contrast, materials engineering is, on the basis of these structure–property correlations, designing or engineering the structure of a material to produce a predetermined set of properties.

Liberty Ship - Hull Failure
Brittle fracture of the U.S. Liberty Ship Esso Manhattan

From a functional perspective, the role of a materials scientist is to develop or synthesize new materials, whereas a materials engineer is called upon to create new products or systems using existing materials and to develop techniques for processing materials.


The basis of materials science involves studying the structure of materials, and relating them to their properties (mechanical, electrical etc.). Once a materials scientist knows about this structure-property correlation, they can then go on to study the relative performance of a material in a given application. The major determinants of the structure of a material and thus of its properties are its constituent chemical elements and the way in which it has been processed into its final form.


Germanium - semiconductor
12 grams polycrystalline germanium. Source: wikipedia.org License: CC BY 3.0

A material is defined as a substance (most often a solid, but other condensed phases can be included) that is intended to be used for certain applications. There are a myriad of materials around us – they can be found in anything from buildings to spacecraft. On the basis of chemistry and atomic structure, materials are classified into three general categories:

  • Metals (metallic elements),
  • Ceramics (compounds between metallic and nonmetallic elements),
  • Polymers (compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and other nonmetallic elements).

In addition, composites are composed of at least two different material types. New and advanced materials that are being developed include nanomaterials, biomaterials, and energy materials to name a few.

Materials for Nuclear Engineering

An understanding of material science is essential for power plant personnel to understand why a material was selected for certain applications within their facility. Almost all processes that take place in the nuclear facilities involve the use of specialized metals. A basic understanding of material science is necessary for nuclear facility operators, maintenance personnel, and the technical staff to safely operate and maintain the facility and facility support systems. Our goal here will be to introduce material engineering of nuclear reactors. The knowledge of thermophysical and nuclear properties of materials is essential for designing nuclear power plants.

Materials Science:
  1. U.S. Department of Energy, Material Science. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  2. U.S. Department of Energy, Material Science. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 and 2. January 1993.
  3. William D. Callister, David G. Rethwisch. Materials Science and Engineering: An Introduction 9th Edition, Wiley; 9 edition (December 4, 2013), ISBN-13: 978-1118324578.
  4. Eberhart, Mark (2003). Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart. Harmony. ISBN 978-1-4000-4760-4.
  5. Gaskell, David R. (1995). Introduction to the Thermodynamics of Materials (4th ed.). Taylor and Francis Publishing. ISBN 978-1-56032-992-3.
  6. González-Viñas, W. & Mancini, H.L. (2004). An Introduction to Materials Science. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-07097-1.
  7. Ashby, Michael; Hugh Shercliff; David Cebon (2007). Materials: engineering, science, processing and design (1st ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-7506-8391-3.
  8. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.

See above:

Nuclear Engineering

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