As long as there has been engineering there has been an interest in new materials. But Professor Oleg Zikanov and Associate Professor German Reyes-Villanueva say unique forces shaping today’s economy are supercharging the drive for innovation. Things like climate change, the pivot away from fossil fuels, resource scarcity, and the desire to have materials that are environmentally friendly throughout their life cycle mean that materials science engineers are now in high demand across just about any industry you can think of.
This coming fall, UM-Dearborn is launching a new master’s in materials science and engineering to help meet that growing demand, but Zikanov says don’t expect it to look like other programs in this area. “A lot of programs across the U.S. tend to be older ones that were established 30 or 40 years ago, and the focuses tend to be in the traditional areas, like metals, composites and plastics,” he says. “We want to offer students something much more diverse and interdisciplinary, including advanced applications of things like nanomaterials, biomaterials or the kinds of materials required for advanced energy systems.” In addition, Zikanov says the curriculum will be highly application focused, distinguishing it from traditional programs that typically emphasize the fundamentals of the discipline.
Materials sciences, in fact, might be one of UM-Dearborn’s more underrated strengths. Reyes-Villanueva says the college currently boasts half a dozen faculty who teach and conduct research in this area, providing a firm base for a graduate curriculum with multiple specialties. The new Engineering Lab Building also features several labs dedicated to various materials sciences disciplines. And classes in this area are already popular offerings for a wide range of engineering students. “Sometimes when students look at a product, like a car part, for example, they initially only see what’s on the outside,” Reyes-Villanueva says. “But to get the right performance, it may need to be made of a particular alloy, which requires a certain manufacturing process, and going all the way down, a certain atomic structure. When students realize that the structure inside a material is what gives it its mechanical properties, it tends to be very eye opening.”
Reyes-Villanueva and Zikanov expect the new program to draw a wide range of students, including international students and working engineers who are looking to take the next step in their careers. In addition, the new master’s may appeal to another burgeoning population within engineering: Students who want to use their technical expertise to make a difference in the world.
“Whether it’s biodegradable materials, or new processes for recycling, or new energy technologies, the world is going to need many innovations that depend on new kinds of materials,” Zikanov says. “So in the long run, if you are concerned about social and environmental issues, I would say it might be difficult to find a discipline where your impact can be more direct.”
Interested in the new M.S.E. in Materials Science and Engineering? You can learn more and apply on the main program page.