Undergraduate Study / Materials Science and Engineering (BS)Areas of Concentration
The undergraduate program at Northwestern offers a close relationship between students and faculty. Every effort is made to tailor specific programs to needs and interests. Several broad areas of concentration are described below. Students are encouraged to create other areas that fit particular interests.
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- Design and Manufacturing
- Electronic Materials
- Energy Materials
- Metals and Ceramics
- Polymeric Materials
- Surface Science
The growth of biotechnology has stimulated interest in the interface of the life sciences and materials science. The field of biomaterials spans three broad areas: biomedical implant materials to replace natural structures; biomimetic materials applying biological concepts to the design of new engineering materials; and the application of materials science principles to the understanding of structure and function in biological systems.
This concentration is especially appropriate for those planning a career in industry, where engineers typically work in teams on projects requiring experience with design and manufacturing. It builds on the design content in the materials science curriculum and provides additional interdisciplinary design experience. The concentration also develops industrially relevant strengths in the areas of materials selection, computational tools, materials processing, and failure analysis.
As microelectronics enters the era of ultralarge-scale integration, materials scientists face new challenges in developing materials and processes for integrated circuits with components of nanometer dimensions. New scientific principles, materials fabrication techniques, and improved instrumentation will be needed to exploit electronic-level structure/property relations in devices and their components. New electronic materials must be developed to meet requirements in a growing range of application areas, such as spintronics, optical computing, and fuel cells.
Materials play a key role in a variety of energy-related areas including the search for new and efficient energy sources, as well as energy storage and efficient energy utilization. Specific topics covered in this specialization include fuel cell materials, hydrogen generation and storage, solar energy conversion, lithium-ion battery materials, and light-weight energy efficient structural materials.
The ability to design increasingly higher-strength alloys allows for lighter structures and higher-temperature materials provide energy efficiency. Heat-treatable and toughened ceramics exploit advanced knowledge of solid-state phase transformations and reactions. Exciting developments are taking place in high-performance composite combinations of these and other materials for structural and electronic applications.
The area of nanomaterials, focusing on materials with sizes in the range of 1 to 100 nanometers, is an increasingly important research topic as nanotechnology industries develop. Examples of nanomaterials include ultrahigh-strength materials with nanometer-range structural features and structures designed and self-assembled atom by atom or molecule by molecule. Machines smaller than the tip of a pin can be built using either semiconductor materials processing or biologically inspired processing technology. This specialization is designed to give students the knowledge needed to work at the nanoscale, including design and synthesis, characterization, and theory/modeling/simulation of nanomaterials.
Synthetic polymers offer the engineering community an ever-expanding array of materials having properties tailored by chemical and physical processing. New developments are opening up applications for polymers as high-strength, low-weight materials, optoelectronic components, and key materials in other revolutionary areas. The basic understanding of engineering properties, in terms of multilevel microstructure, is essential for the full utilization of polymers.
A solid communicates with the outside world through its surface. Wear, corrosion, and passivation are well-known surface processes. Chemical, electronic, and mechanical properties of materials depend on composition at surfaces and grain boundaries (internal surfaces), surface treatments, and the environment. The surface scientist must be able to not only determine the properties of surfaces and interfaces, but also control them.