Materials & Textiles

Materials and textile chemists enjoy modifying and improving basic polymers to solve problems.

Typical Job Functions

Chemists play a predominant role in materials science to design and synthesize materials with interesting or potentially useful physical characteristics (e.g., magnetic, optical, or structural properties).

Much of materials chemists’ work is performed in a lab. They also work with engineers and processing specialists in pilot plants or manufacturing facilities. After a material is commercialized, materials scientists often help customers to tailor the material to suit their needs.

Materials chemists essentially adjust the properties of a material to create custom, or even brand new, materials with specific properties for specific uses. Most materials chemists are employed in industry by:

  • Companies who make products from metals, ceramics, and rubber
  • Coatings manufacturers, developing new varieties of paint
  • Biomedical industries, designing materials that are compatible with human tissues for prosthetics and implants
  • Companies specializing in polymers, composites, superconducting materials, graphite materials, integrated-circuit chips, and fuel cells.

Textile chemistry is a highly specialized field that applies the principles of materials chemistry to the production of textiles, including those used in clothing, furniture, air bags, etc. Textile chemists may create new products to meet specific market needs, or they may modify existing products to become more generally marketable.

Career Paths

Materials scientists generally gain more independence and responsibility as they progress in their careers. They also tend to become more specialized in a particular technique or type of material.

Materials chemists may work in the following areas:

  • Research and development
  • Process development and modification
  • Technical services
  • Environmental testing
  • Dyeing and finishing operations

Industrial materials chemists may eventually choose to move into fields that are “chemistry adjacent” (e.g., project management or process improvement). These allow them to use their chemical knowledge, but also include managerial or business-related responsibilities.

Getting Started

Most projects in materials science are team efforts that include technicians, engineers, physicists, and materials scientists. So, a broad background in various sciences (e.g., a combination of chemistry, physics, and engineering) is preferred.

To prepare for a career as a materials chemist, the following are useful:

  • More extensive training in specific, related disciplines of organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and colloid chemistry, or a specific materials science (e.g., ceramic engineering)
  • Familiarity with basic statistical concepts

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