Metallurgy is a field of materials science, and it doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out which material in particular it focuses on. That’s right: metals. Read on for more information about studying metallurgy at undergraduate level.
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Studying metallurgy at university
Studying for a metallurgy degree requires a good head for sciences; the subject involves investigation of the chemical and physical properties of metallic elements, compounds and alloys.
Metallurgy degrees also cover metal-related technologies, including extraction methods, use in industry and engineering, and metalworking processes such as casting, forging and sintering.
At some universities, metallurgy’s practical applications in engineering and industry are emphasized through visits to facilities, guest speakers and work placements. Disciplines you may touch on include physics, chemistry, chemical engineering, engineering design and instrumentation technology.
Specializations in materials sciences
Three or four years may seem a long time to dedicate entirely to the study of metals at university. But, while metallurgy is often offered as part of a broader materials science course, in fact it incorporates a diverse range of different skills, subject areas and applications.
Some of the areas you might choose to focus on include:
Physical metallurgy: This is the study of the properties and forms of different metals, how they respond to different conditions, and various types of change they can undergo.
Specialism in this field will also involve learning how to use a range of methods for examining metals, such as thermal analysis, mechanical testing, diffuse X-ray scattering and transmission electron microscopy (lots of impressive-sounding words to impress your friends and family).
Chemical metallurgy: Unsurprisingly, this involves looking at the chemical properties of metals, and chemical transformations. It may also include the use of chemical processes to extract and refine metals.
Engineering and process metallurgy: You guessed it – this is the study of metals as used in engineering processes. This may include the production of alloys, shaping, and an awareness of the effects of different processes on metallic properties, such as brittleness caused by cold or cryogenic conditions.
Careers in materials sciences
Broadly speaking, it’s possible to divide metallurgists into those who specialize in physical, chemical and process metallurgy – but in practice these roles overlap.
All three fields can be either office-based or more hands-on, spanning the whole design and manufacturing timeline – including research, design, manufacture, production management and quality control.
For example, metallurgists may carry out theoretical research, conduct analyses using specialist computer software, produce reports and give advice on how to achieve desired outcomes – such as increased strength or reduced corrosion.
Metallurgists may also oversee processes such as casting and soldering, develop new parts and prototypes, and carry out quality and safety control tests.
Unsurprisingly, demand for metallurgists is highest in metal-based industries, including mining, aviation and car manufacture.