We live in a material world. Today, it is the role of the materials engineer to study, develop, design and operate processes that transform raw materials into useful engineering products intended to improve the quality of our lives.
The industrial revolution thrust metals into the forefront of technology, and they have become the very foundation of our modern society. One cannot envision a life in which electronics, transportation systems, buildings and machines are not part of our daily lives.
Metallurgy is the part of materials science and materials engineering (Fig. 1) that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their intermetallic compounds and their alloys. Metallurgy is also the technology of metals: The way in which science is applied to the production of metals and the engineering of metal components for use in consumer products and manufactured goods. The production of component parts made from metals is traditionally divided into several categories.
- Mineral processing: Involves gathering mineral products from the Earth’s crust.
- Extractive metallurgy: The study and application of the processes used in the separation and concentration of raw materials. Techniques include chemical processing to convert minerals from inorganic compounds to useful metals and other materials.
- Physical metallurgy: Links the structure of materials (primarily metals) with their properties. Concepts such as alloy design and microstructural engineering help link processing and thermodynamics to the structure and properties of metals. Through these efforts, goods and services are produced.
Metallurgical engineers are involved in all aspects of the modern world and strive to meet the needs of modern society in an environmentally responsible way by designing processes and products that minimize waste, maximize energy efficiency, increase performance and facilitate recycling.
What is Metallurgical Engineering?
Metals and mineral products surround us everywhere – at home, on our way to and from work, and in our offices or factories. They form the backbone of modern aircraft, automobiles, trains, ships and endless recreational vehicles; buildings; implantable devices; cutlery and cookware; coins and jewelry; firearms; and musical instruments. The uses are endless. While threats abound from alternative material choices, metals continue to be at the forefront and the only choice for many industrial applications.
Developing new materials, new processes to make them and testing new theories and models to understand them are the focal points of today’s metallurgist. We have the means to measure properties at the macro, micro, nano and atomic scales, giving us unprecedented access to fuel new developments. The strong dependence of our society on metals gives the profession of metallurgical engineering its sustained importance in the modern world.
It is believed by most that our economic and technical progress into the 21st century will depend in large part on further advances in metal and mineral technology. For example, advancements in energy technologies, such as the widespread use of nuclear fusion, will only be possible by materials developments not yet in existence. The future is indeed bright for today’s material scientists and those engineers who chose metallurgy as their career choices.
1. The University of Utah (www.metallurgy.utah.edu)
2. The University of Queensland, Australia (www.uq.edu.au)
3. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com)
4. The Princeton Review (www.princetonreview.com)
5. New Mexico Tech (www.nmt.edu)