What makes a degree in Materials Science so great?

Written by Sulayman Hussain, second-year Materials Science

I first came across Materials Science in my sixth form at a guest lecture discussing Formula One cars. Why is it that some materials will deform lots under force, like a carbon fibre chassis, and others remain rigid? Why do we use nickel single crystals in the fiery core of a jet engine and aluminium alloys elsewhere? And what is the process of digging rocks out of the earth and transforming them into these high-performance structures?

As is often the case, having been exposed to Materials Science once, I started seeing them everywhere. It seemed like every week; Materials scientists made a breakthrough. Early-stage detectors of lung cancer were modelled after a dog’s snout, room temperature superconductors (albeit at a minuscule size!) and super plastics stronger than steels. It seemed like Materials Science was making gigantic strides in domains as far-ranging as the human body to outer space. That said, just as Materials Science ushered in the modern world by introducing to our plastics, transistors and fantastic new alloys, it has brought with it its fair share of problems. Plastic pollution, for example, has ravaged the ecosphere with Tesco carrier bags currently floating around in the depths of the Pacific Ocean: places no human being has ever been. As the world races to clean up its act, Materials Scientists will be front and centre.

Discovering Materials after so long dithering about university options was a great relief. Materials Science has allowed me to continue my study of Physics, Chemistry and Maths to degree level, three subjects I enjoyed immensely in A-Level. Materials Science is typically a broad course: a typical term might have you study upwards of 10 or 20 submodules covering all aspects of the material world from the Angstrom (10^-10) scale of spooky quantum wavefunctions through to the regimented metals and right up into the chaotic mega-chained polymers and a healthy sprinkling of transistors, thermodynamics, and electrochemistry and lots more. In the first year, we had the opportunity to build our own machines using Arduino and laser cutting and get to grips with Python working on modelling real-world situations. All in all, it’s a full course with something to keep everyone interested.

Unsurprisingly, being at a university filled with so many intelligent, dynamic people is inspiring. Since starting my degree, I’ve fallen in love with the programming aspect and am investigating careers in Data Science and ESG (Environmental Social & Governance). By being acutely attuned to the problems of sustainability, I feel like Materials Science and Engineering has prepared me well for a career transition into the worlds of policy and investment. I’ve acquired a set of quantitative skills that will stand me in good stead anywhere. I also like Materials because although it has a clear theoretical academic flavour, the course is constructed by looking at key materials and tracing back to the origin of their properties and structure. There is always a clear motivation, in turn motivating me. Studying Materials sometimes feels like an adventure. We are always analysing the real and tangible, yet that analysis can take us to some unexpected places.

Studying Materials Science at Imperial isn’t all about work, though: Imperial has many extracurricular offerings. I love to get active and make it a point to attend the weekly spin and Richmond Park Laps offered by the Imperial Triathlon society. When I need to escape the bustle of London and recharge, I love to attend one of the Fellwanderers’ hikes, whose excellent committee has pledged to offer a hike every Saturday with somehow no two ever being the same! With over 14 railway terminus stations in London, we are one of the best-connected places in the UK to explore locations as far-flung as Wales and Scotland, although you have to be prepared for the occasional predawn start!

I’m on LinkedIn if you would like to discuss opportunities in Materials Science – https://www.linkedin.com/in/sulayman-hussain-b9a157125/​

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