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Working as a Materials Scientist

What Does a Materials Scientist Do

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Duties

Chemists and materials scientists typically do the following:

  • Plan and carry out complex research projects, such as the development of new products and testing methods
  • Direct technicians and other workers in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials
  • Instruct scientists and technicians on proper chemical processing and testing procedures, including ingredients, mixing times, and operating temperatures
  • Prepare solutions, compounds, and reagents used in laboratory procedures
  • Analyze substances to determine their composition and concentration of elements 
  • Conduct tests on materials and other substances to ensure that safety and quality standards are met
  • Write technical reports that detail methods and findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues

Some chemists and materials scientists work in basic research. Others work in applied research. In basic research, chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter. They also experiment with combinations of elements and the ways in which they interact. In applied research, chemists investigate possible new products and ways to improve existing ones. Chemistry research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, and cleaners, as well as thousands of other products.

Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials in order to develop new products or enhance existing ones. They determine ways to strengthen or combine materials, or develop new materials, for use in a variety of products. Applications of materials science include inventing or improving ceramics, metallic alloys, and superconducting materials.

Chemists and materials scientists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling, simulation, and experimental analysis. For example, some chemists use three-dimensional computer modeling software to study the structure and properties of complex molecules. 

Most chemists and materials scientists work as part of a team. The number of scientific research projects that involve multiple disciplines is increasing, and it is common for chemists and materials scientists to work on teams with other scientists, such as biologists, physicists, computer specialists, and engineers. For example, in pharmaceutical research, chemists may work with biologists to develop new drugs and with engineers to design ways to mass-produce the new drugs. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists, microbiologists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, physicists and astronomers, computer and information technology occupations, and engineering occupations.

Chemists often specialize in a particular branch of the field. The following are examples of types of chemists:

Analytical chemists determine the structure, composition, and nature of substances by examining and identifying their various elements or compounds. They also study the relationships and interactions among the parts of compounds. Some analytical chemists specialize in developing new methods of analysis and new techniques for carrying out their work. Their research has a wide range of applications, including food safety, pharmaceuticals, and pollution control.

Inorganic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that do not contain carbon, such as metals. They work to understand the behavior and the characteristics of inorganic substances. Inorganic chemists figure out how these materials, such as ceramics and superconductors, can be modified, separated, or used in products.  

Medicinal chemists research and develop chemical compounds that can be used as pharmaceutical drugs. They work on teams with other scientists and engineers to create and test new drug products. They also help develop new and improved manufacturing processes to produce new drugs on a large scale effectively.

Organic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that contain carbon. They also design and make new organic substances that have unique properties and applications. These compounds in turn, have been used to develop many commercial products, such as pharmaceutical drugs and plastics.

Physical chemists study the fundamental characteristics of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur. On the basis of their analyses, physical chemists may develop new theories, such as how complex structures are formed. Physical chemists often work closely with materials scientists, to research and develop potential uses for new materials.

Theoretical chemists investigate theoretical methods that can predict the outcomes of chemical experiments. Theoretical chemistry encompasses a variety of specializations itself, although most specializations incorporate advanced computation and programming. Some examples of theoretical chemists are computational chemists, mathematical chemists, and chemical informaticians.

Materials scientists tend to specialize by the material they work with most often. A few examples of materials in which these scientists specialize are ceramics, glasses, metals, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), polymers, and semiconductors.

A growing numbers of chemists work in interdisciplinary fields, such as biochemistry and geochemistry. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists and geoscientists.

Many people with a chemistry background become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profiles on high school teachers and postsecondary teachers.

How To Become a Materials Scientist

Chemists and materials scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field. However, a master’s degree or Ph.D. is required for many research jobs.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or in a related field is needed for entry-level chemist or materials scientist jobs. Although some materials scientists hold a degree in materials science, most have a degree in chemistry, physics, or engineering. Many jobs require a master’s degree or a Ph.D. and also may require significant levels of work experience. Chemists and materials scientists with a Ph.D. and postdoctoral experience typically lead basic- or applied-research teams.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry that are approved by the American Chemical Society. There are few programs specifically in materials science, but the number of programs is gradually increasing. Some colleges offer materials science as a specialization within their chemistry programs, and some engineering schools offer degrees in the joint field of materials science and engineering. High school students can prepare for college coursework by taking chemistry, math, and computer science classes.

Undergraduate chemistry majors typically are required to take courses in analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. In addition to chemistry coursework, they take classes in mathematics, biological sciences, and physics. Computer science courses are essential, because chemists and materials scientists need computer skills to perform modeling and simulation tasks, manage and manipulate databases, and operate computerized laboratory equipment.

Laboratory experience, either at a college or university, or through internships, fellowships, or work–study programs in industry, is also useful.

Graduate students studying chemistry commonly specialize in a subfield, such as analytical chemistry or inorganic chemistry. For example, those interested in doing research in the pharmaceutical industry usually develop a strong background in medicinal or organic chemistry.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Chemists and materials scientists carry out scientific experiments and studies. They must be precise and accurate in their analyses, because errors could invalidate their research.

Communication skills. Chemists and materials scientists need to communicate with team members and other scientists. They must be able to read and write technical reports and give presentations.

Critical-thinking skills. Chemists and materials scientists carefully evaluate their own work and the work of others. They must determine if results and conclusions are based on sound science.

Interpersonal skills. Chemists and materials scientists typically work on interdisciplinary research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Math skills. Chemists and materials scientists regularly use complex mathematical equations and formulas, and they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus, algebra, and statistics.

Organizational skills. Chemists and materials scientists need to document processes carefully in order to conform to regulations and industry procedures. Disorganization in the workplace can lead to legal problems, damage to equipment, and chemical spills.

Perseverance. Scientific research involves substantial trial and error, and chemists and materials scientists must not become discouraged in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Chemists and materials scientists research and develop new and improved chemical products, processes, and materials. This work requires a great deal of trial and error on the part of chemists and materials scientists before a unique solution is found.

Time-management skills. Chemists and materials scientists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.

Advancement

Chemists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. Greater responsibility also is gained through further education. Ph.D. chemists usually lead research teams and have control over the direction and content of projects, but even Ph.D. holders have room to advance as they gain experience. As chemists become more proficient in managing research projects, they may take on larger, more complicated, and more expensive projects.

Some chemists and materials scientists become natural sciences managers.

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Average Salary$86,633
Job Growth Rate4%

Materials Scientist Jobs

Materials Scientist Career Paths

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Average Salary for a Materials Scientist

Materials Scientists in America make an average salary of $86,633 per year or $42 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $116,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $64,000 per year.
Average Salary
$86,633

Best Paying Cities

Average Salary
Salary Range89k - 138k$111k$111,143
Salary Range84k - 131k$105k$105,314
Salary Range80k - 126k$101k$100,807
Salary Range78k - 128k$100k$100,325
Salary Range74k - 115k$93k$92,832
Salary Range72k - 117k$92k$92,209
$47k
$138k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Materials Scientist at Medtronic
Materials Scientist at Medtronic
Aerotek
Aerotek
03/25/2020
03/25/2020
$73,04503/25/2020
$73,045
Materials Scientist II
Materials Scientist II
University of Florida
University of Florida
02/28/2020
02/28/2020
$38,00002/28/2020
$38,000
Materials Scientist
Materials Scientist
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
10/08/2019
10/08/2019
$98,90010/08/2019
$98,900
Materials Scientist
Materials Scientist
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
09/26/2019
09/26/2019
$98,90009/26/2019
$98,900
Materials Scientist/Engineer
Materials Scientist/Engineer
Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC
Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC
09/16/2019
09/16/2019
$106,87209/16/2019
$106,872
See More Recent Salaries

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Materials Scientist Demographics

Gender

male

61.5%

female

22.3%

unknown

16.2%

Ethnicity

White

56.7%

Asian

28.8%

Hispanic or Latino

7.0%

Foreign Languages Spoken

Mandarin

26.7%

German

20.0%

Chinese

13.3%
See More Demographics

Materials Scientist Education

Degrees

Doctorate

52.4%

Masters

26.2%

Bachelors

20.7%

Top Colleges for Materials Scientists

1. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY

Tuition and fees
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

2. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

Tuition and fees
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

3. University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

Tuition and fees
$13,226
Enrollment
31,568

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, MA

Tuition and fees
$51,832
Enrollment
4,550

5. Stanford University

Stanford, CA

Tuition and fees
$51,354
Enrollment
7,083

6. Washington University in St Louis

Saint Louis, MO

Tuition and fees
$53,399
Enrollment
7,356

7. The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL

Tuition and fees
$10,780
Enrollment
32,177

8. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA

Tuition and fees
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

9. University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX

Tuition and fees
$10,610
Enrollment
40,329

10. University of California - San Diego

La Jolla, CA

Tuition and fees
$14,167
Enrollment
30,279
See More Education Info

Entry Level Jobs For Becoming A Materials Scientist

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Part Time
Internship
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Top Skills For a Materials Scientist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 8.3% of materials scientists listed materials characterization on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and math skills are important as well.

Best States For a Materials Scientist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a materials scientist. The best states for people in this position are New Jersey, Utah, Maryland, and New Hampshire. Materials scientists make the most in New Jersey with an average salary of $104,811. Whereas in Utah and Maryland, they would average $100,484 and $100,257, respectively. While materials scientists would only make an average of $99,115 in New Hampshire, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New Jersey

Total Materials Scientist Jobs:
188
Highest 10% Earn:
$158,000
Location Quotient:
1.44
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. New Hampshire

Total Materials Scientist Jobs:
19
Highest 10% Earn:
$150,000
Location Quotient:
0.72
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Utah

Total Materials Scientist Jobs:
21
Highest 10% Earn:
$159,000
Location Quotient:
0.5
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Materials Scientist Employers

1. General Electric
4.7
Avg. Salary: 
$85,521
Materials Scientists Hired: 
42+
2. Brookhaven National Laboratory
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$74,020
Materials Scientists Hired: 
31+
3. UChicago Argonne
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$74,709
Materials Scientists Hired: 
29+
4. Headway Technologies
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$77,263
Materials Scientists Hired: 
22+
5. Oak Ridge National Laboratory
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$69,665
Materials Scientists Hired: 
19+
6. Halliburton
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$71,210
Materials Scientists Hired: 
15+

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Recently Added Materials Scientist Jobs

Updated October 2, 2020