Did you memorize the periodic table for fun? Did you enjoy your chemistry or physics labs? Is math your thing? If so, you might consider majoring in metallurgical engineering.
Metallurgical engineering is a subset of engineering that focuses on the properties, structure, and function of metals and alloys. The major itself begins with a strong foundation in math and the sciences. These may include chemistry and physics, differential equations, calculus, and other math classes, in addition to engineering-related courses such as programming,
statistics, and design.
There will also be metallurgical core courses that address the relationships between metals or alloys. Students will analyze the structures and processing of these metals in order to understand the various uses of them and how different metals and alloys can be combined.
Typically, students will take courses on both mechanical and physical properties of alloys including electrical, magnetic, and optical properties. A common requirement includes a course about the electrochemical behavior of materials.
Students come to understand these relationships on multiple levels, starting from the interactions of individual atoms and expanding to how macroscopically visible components in engineered composites interact. Other required or elective classes might include the thermodynamics of materials, the kinetic processes that control movement on a molecular scale, and the application of materials processing. Application courses could include sintering, vapor deposition of metals and alloys, and casting.
Finally, understanding the performance of metals and alloys is an important part of the major. Performance is defined by the properties of metals and alloys as well as
their cost, availability, and recyclability, which are all things that must be considered in the real world of metallurgical engineering. Major programs often cover the performance aspect of metallurgical engineering in multiple courses, and then emphasize it in a large design project that is usually completed in the last year of the major.
Most metallurgical engineering departments are relatively small, which means that students get to know their faculty members and peers well. Depending on the college, classes range from ten to fifty students. Many programs have student societies that aid in a student becoming integrated into the profession before he or she graduates.
It is important to note that since this major is so complex, program concentrations differ greatly in schools across the United States. Some programs only focus on metals while others include other materials such as ceramics and composites. Also, some programs stress extractive processing of commodity metals, while others emphasize physical metallurgy and the application of engineering alloys. Regardless of the concentration, students will leave a metallurgical engineering major with strong skills in many areas. Because the major includes more lab work than other engineering majors, students will achieve an understanding of how to use advanced experimental techniques such as X-ray diffraction, mechanical testing, and optical and electron microscopy. They will know how to analyze data, draw conclusions from quantitative analysis, think spatially, and apply their knowledge to complex problems.
The nature of the program also challenges students to think creatively. Since the world’s understanding of metallurgical engineering is constantly advancing, this is a field that is always adapting. Therefore, students will leave the major equipped to make new connections that may have never been made before in the field.