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Chemistry or materials engineering?

  1. May 1, 2008 #1
    I'm interested in chemistry right now, even though I haven't taken a chemistry course in two years and my school would not allow me to take first semester chemistry for credit again because I have taken it in high school at another college. Now I am thinking of whether do chemistry or materials engineering. I will be entering my second year in the fall and will have to take second semester chemistry over the summer if I decide to do either one of those. Here are my reasons for choosing those:

    -I like chemistry.
    -I enjoy lab work.
    -I took a 6-week chemistry course and actually made it through the end of the course (in high school). I was lazy in high school and would have lost motivation, especially since that was my first high school (and college-level) science course, but somehow, I didn't quit. There must be something that kept me going.
    -I am interested in drugs (pharmaceuticals).
    -I like learning about "stuff" (physical things).

    -Low starting salaries (at all levels).
    -Large class sizes.
    -Might not get into graduate school for chemistry because of my low grades right now.

    Materials Engineering
    -Same reasons as chemistry (except for the pharmaceuticals part).
    -I like to learn about how stuff works.
    -Back in an art class in high school, I was interested in ceramics (the stuff itself and the art) when I took an art class on the subject.
    -Higher average starting salary.
    -Small class sizes.

    -I dislike electrical engineering and the E&M stuff in physics.
    -It seems like a small field.

    Based on these considerations, which one of these should I do my undergraduate degree in? By the way, I know nothing about materials engineering except that it is related to chemistry and physics. Thanks in advance for any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2008 #2
    Why not combne them? Chemistry and materials science is in this day and age almost the same thing.

    I am going to combine nanotechnology (a physics/chem major) with a materials science minor. I am sure that you could do this and other combos at yours school too!
  4. May 15, 2008 #3
    Yes, there is a Materials Science/Chemistry dual major offered at my school, I might consider that. I'm also considering chemical engineering since using chemistry to build stuff (batteries, fuel cells) seems really interesting. I can also do a materials engineering major with a minor/concentration in chemical engineering or vice versa. I don't want to be a factory/plant engineer, though. That sounds really boring.

    Is Materials Science/Engineering more physics than chemistry? Or is it more math?
  5. May 16, 2008 #4
    It is both more maths and physics than ordinary chemistry, but not more than physical chemistry I think.
  6. Jun 3, 2008 #5
    It will depend heavily on the specific school that you are considering. Some schools have chemE and mat sci joined at the hip. Other schools chemE is more chemistry while mat sci is more applied condensed matter physics.

    Nowadays, more and more mat sci programs are gearing their studies towards nanoscale science/engineering. In that case you will undoubtedly take courses in electronic/optical properties.

    More traditional mat sci programs usually tell you to concentrate on a specific class of material (semiconductor, polymer, etc). In that case you should find the more chemistry-type of tracks (e.g. polymer).

    Either way, if pharmaceuticals are more your thing, then I would think biochem or biotech would be more applicable.
  7. Jun 4, 2008 #6
    Industrial chemistry pays much more than academic chemistry. The ACS has some good reports that break this down. Mean salary figures for chemists tend to be skewed by the much lower academic salaries. Pharmaceutical chemists and especially pharmaceutical research chemists tend to be highly paid compared to academic chemists, approaching 6 figures with significant experience in the field.

    Chemical engineering pays much more than chemistry. CE focuses on process design and efficiency, whereas "just" chemistry tends to be more focused on analysis; a classic example is that a chemist finds new ways to synthesize a chemical while a CE evaluates existing processes to find the most cost-effective one. Pharmaceutical companies would also employ many chemical engineers.

    Materials engineering can be viewed as an intersection between chemistry and physics. Depending on specialty, it can be largely one or largely the other. Typical salaries appear to be higher than the nonexistent "average" chemist, but lower than chemical engineers - but this would strongly depend on specialty. Materials engineering jobs seem to have a high frequency of being filled by people from diverse majors.

    Honors sections of chemistry are sometimes available and tend to be smaller sections by about a factor of 5 to 10.
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