While humankind may have been happy to enjoy a direct and straightforward use of naturally available materials for a very long time, technological and scientific progress has greatly modified this approach. Whether it is sport, medicine, the car industry, fashion, or even electronic components, materials play a prominent role today. The era of “customized” materials developed for a specific application is here. It is a safe bet that there will be a proliferation of what are termed “smart” materials in the future, which will be able to modify their properties according to how they are used.
The study of materials is very varied because it deals with fields that are as diverse as polymers, ceramics, metals and alloys, optical materials and electronics, composites or biomaterials. For each one of these, the structures of the material must be understood at a microscopic or even atomic scale in order to grasp its macroscopic properties. The engineer can then shape the material in order to endow it with specific properties: varying the composition of alloys, making inclusions, using heat treatment in order to obtain a specific crystallization, etc. Understanding the relationship between the microstructure and the performances of materials requires the use of specialized observational techniques such as electron microscopy or spectroscopic measurements. This information is often complemented by modeling, a process that has become a fundamental part of the modern approach to materials science.
As a materials engineer, you will be both a specialist and non-specialized: your approach is at the border of many disciplines; you will use basic scientific knowledge (chemistry, physics, mathematics), and constantly work with engineers who are used to designing manufacturing processes or applications (mechanics, microengineering, civil engineering, etc.).
Today, you cannot remain satisfied with just developing a high-performing material but must also be responsible for finding technically and financially viable production means which might guarantee that your invention reaches the industrial market. To ensure that it receives long-term acceptance, you will also have to work on the life cycle of your product, incorporating both ecological constraints related to its manufacture and the possibilities of valorization after use.
Video: Julia Braun, student in materials science
Program presentation and study plan
BSc (180 ECTS credits)
In addition to the objective of providing you with a solid foundation in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, the program tackles the different types of materials – metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites – as well as analytical and characterization methods. You will deal with the structure and properties of materials, the underlying principles of their different transformations, and development technologies. During your final year, you will carry out a research project in the laboratory of your choice.
You will deepen your knowledge of the structure of materials, from the macroscopic to the atomic scale, in order to use their properties, master the manufacturing process, and create new products. You will have a choice of several areas:
• transformation of materials and production processes,
• structural materials for transportation, energy, and infrastructures,
• materials for microelectronics and microengineering,
• materials for medical and biotechnological applications,
• materials research and development.
A professional internship in a company and several projects (including the MSc project for 30 credits) in the laboratories of your choice will complete the training.
Other programs will be open to you after graduating with the BSc degree, in particular some interdisciplinary MSc programs. See our website at master.epfl.ch for further information.
Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as details of the study plan may be subject to change.
Video (in French): Steve Clerc, student in materials science
Once you have completed the BSc then the MSc program, you will be ready to enter the professional world. Within industry, there are many varied openings: you can work in fields such as metallurgical industries, ceramics, or polymers, clock and watchmaking, the building industry, the agri-food industry, or even in packaging, transportation, and energy. Other developing sectors, such as the biomedical, composite materials, micro and nanotechnology, telecommunications, aeronautics, and aerospace, as well as high-performance sport, all look for the skills of materials engineers.
You can have different roles: in research and development, you will be looking to optimize the choice of material for a given application or to develop new development processes. You will combine experimentation and digital modeling to establish the link between different processes (production cycles, temperature, etc.) and the characteristics of the final product (microstructures, mechanical properties, etc.). In production units, you will ensure the implementation of these processes and product quality. Additionally, there are more engineers involved with the life cycle analysis of materials.
After the MSc, it is also possible to do a PhD, at EPFL or in another institution. With this qualification in hand, which comprises real training to complement research, you will be able to work in public or private institutions, in teaching (universities and specialized colleges, etc.) or then join the industrial world.
Edwina Klay Bachelor and Master degrees in Materials Science and Engineering (2006)
Edwinay Klay works for a watchmaking company, as lab manager.
… I wasn’t ready to enter the job market right away, and I was interested in doing a second Master’s degree in Technology and Entrepreneurship. At first I didn’t want to do a PhD, but I was offered to work on a project in collaboration with the industry. I thought it was a good compromise and I said yes. This PhD gave me the chance to really master a subject, and it will probably remain the only opportunity I’ll ever have. In the job market, everything goes too fast: your product is not even available on the market that you already think about the next one. I really enjoyed doing my PhD, even if I did work a lot.
I found a job after a couple of months in a big watchmaking company. I work for the metallurgical lab, a job that perfectly matches my profile. When I was looking for a job, there were not many offers. It was the economic crisis, and the watchmaking industry was the only one hiring. But I was ready to move from Lausanne, I applied for a job in the Swiss-German region and found something. Many engineers in materials science work in this field, especially in R&D.
After 2 years, I’m now a lab manager. We are responsible for homologations and production support. It means that when a problem occurs in production, we are the experts who have to find a solution. For example, if a piece breaks when assembling the watch movements: does the problem comes from the material? Or from the thermal treatment? Or is it an error in the parameter settings? I’m also responsible for the lab development, to implement work methods that ensure the quality of our products. And I‘m involved in alloy development, which is good, that way I remain active in R&D.
Before I started EPFL, I was interested in chemistry, microengineering and materials science engineering. I chose materials science engineering because it’s multidisciplinary and there are not too many students in every class (compared to other departments). I never regretted my choice.
Looking for further details about this program? Please check its specific webpages or use the contacts below: