Materials Scientist or Engineer

Materials scientists or engineers study the structures and properties of various materials such as metals, alloys, ceramics, semiconductors and polymers. The purpose of these studies is to understand and characterize materials and to develop new materials for commercial and scientific benefit.

Materials specialists make sure the right material is used for the right job and may be involved in developing, selecting or evaluating materials for specialist uses.  The financial yield of selling finished products is generally much higher than that of selling natural resources that are still in ore form, for example. Materials scientists find and develop creative and economical ways of converting natural resources into final products. This covers a very broad spectrum of materials and products and they perform a range of different functions in various industries.

Materials specialists often work with electrical and mechanical engineers, designers, marketers and other scientists as part of multi-disciplinary teams.

Their work involves discussing operational requirements, researching new and existing materials and assessing their suitability for use, running computer models, analysing and interrogating data to identify insights and opportunities to improve, developing products, providing accurate cost figures, consulting with regulatory officials and keeping up to date with technological and legal developments.

Their scientific approach to problem-solving means that they are often in demand in other industries, such as IT, technical sales and marketing, and consultancy.

Materials scientists can specialise in areas such as the following:

  • guidance of technical staff in developing materials for a specific use of a projected product
  • mining and processing materials
  • extraction of certain elements from minerals
  • processing minerals into materials such as metals, ceramics and plastics
  • the use of materials in engineering structures
  • disposal of waste materials
  • managing a furnace or rolling mill
  • the conduction of laboratory experiments in the production of materials, to confirm the feasibility of processes and techniques for potential users

Important skills are IT, analytical, communication and knowledge of manufacturing processes.

Personal Requirements

  • scientific and mathematical aptitude
  • above-average intelligence
  • analytical and practical inclination
  • able to conceptualise abstract ideas
  • highly motivated and dedicated

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

Degree: BSc: Metallurgical Engineering / Extraction Metallurgy - UP, UJ, , US, Wits

Those with a BEng. degree and three years’ practical experience can register as Professional Engineers with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).

Diploma: N.Dip: Metallurgical Engineering - VUT

Training for technologists include university of technology courses in Materials Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Quality Control, Computer Applications and Metallurgical Engineering. Usually, employing companies require recently qualified diploma graduates to undergo a period of further in-service training before they are accepted as fully qualified materials scientists or engineers


Employers include the manufacturers of micro-processors and computers, electronic equipment and products, and producers of plastics, ceramic, steel, glass etc.

Companies and statutory organisations that employ materials scientists include:

  • Mittal Steel
  • Council for Mineral Technology - MINTEK
  • Eskom
  • CSIR
  • Samancor
  • Sasol
  • Anglo American
  • Rand Mines
  • Gencor
  • JCI
  • De Beers
  • Columbus Stainless Steel
  • Huletts Aluminium. or materials engineers.
  • self-employment is also an option, with enough experience, can start their own business and work as consultants, particularly in the fields of welding, casting, corrosion and failure analysis.

Further Information

Any of the above-mentioned potential employers, universities or universities of technology.

The Head
Information and Communication Division
200 Malibongwe Drive
Strijdom Park, Randburg
Tel: (011) 709-4111

The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
The Minerals Council South Africa
5th Floor
5 Hollard Street
Cnr Sauer and Marshall Street
Tel: (011) 834-1273/7

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation work in a materials processing organisation
  • make an appointment to speak to a materials scientist / engineer about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Study Material Sciences at Wits

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