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New Undergrad Certificate Offers Experience in Materials Science and Engineering

Duke’s newest undergraduate certificate program covers fundamentals at the intersection of physics, chemistry and engineering

Responding to a substantial and rising interest in materials science and engineering among undergraduates, the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science will begin offering a Certificate in Materials Science & Engineering this fall. This option will formalize, guide and further expand undergraduate offerings at Duke University for students who wish to prepare for careers or graduate work in areas such as energy harvesting and conversion, devices for information storage and processing, polymers, biomedical technologies, structural materials and environmental impacts.  

Like the interdisciplinary field itself, the certificate’s course offerings, faculty and even students will span the intersection of physics, chemistry and engineering.

“The purpose of the certificate is to offer students a rigorous, in-depth exposure to the key scientific and engineering fundamental principles of materials science and engineering,” explained the certificate advisor Olivier Delaire, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS). “We encourage students from either the Pratt School of Engineering or Trinity College of Arts & Sciences who are interested in these topics to enroll.”

“The certificate will offer students a rigorous, in-depth exposure to the scientific and engineering fundamental principles in the broad set of core disciplines of materials science and engineering.”

To earn the certificate, a student must complete seven courses from three categories: two required centerpiece courses; four electives, one of which must be outside the student’s major department; and a humanities or social science course approved on an individual basis. Students must satisfy all prerequisites before enrolling in any of the listed courses. Successful completion of the certificate will appear on the student’s academic transcript.

One of the centerpiece courses, ME 412 (Chem 512) Modern Materials, taught by MEMS Associate Professor and Associate Chair Christine Payne, is both comprehensive and fun. It examines the underlying molecular details that give materials their specific properties.

"We emphasize photovoltaics, polymers, magnetic materials and biocompatible ceramics. Each module begins with an overview of applications, economics and history of the material. Then we work towards an understanding of the fundamental physics and chemistry that leads to the unique properties of each material with a focus on quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics," said Payne.

For the four electives, students may choose from a long list of courses from engineering, chemistry and physics. They can delve into polymers, photovoltaics, computational materials science, metallic structures, advanced biomaterials, nanophotonics and more.

“This really is an exciting opportunity for our undergraduates, both for those planning to go straight into an industry job or on to a master’s or PhD program following graduation,” added Don Bliss, director of undergraduate studies in MEMS. “A number of our best graduates have continued in this field, either through graduate study or employment in the materials industry.”

Certificate in Materials Science & Engineering