Materials Science

I wanted to study science at university but I wasn’t sure which course to go for. I really wanted to go to Oxford so I knew I would have to choose a specific course from the start. Materials Science intrigued me so I started to read a few books on the subject and soon realised this was the course for me.

I like its variety. You could be doing quantum mechanics in the morning and studying hip implants in the afternoon. The department also organises industrial visits and trips abroad which are a lot of fun.

My best memory of studying has to be sitting in the Exam Schools after my last paper and feeling the adrenaline rush.

Jeremy, Teddy Hall, student from 2012

If you had the same problem as me of not being able to decide between studying Chemistry, Physics, or Engineering at university, Materials Science may suit you. By combining all three, I feel as if I could tackle any scientific problem pretty well, which makes the skills of a Materials Scientist highly sought after, as scientific research is becoming more multi-disciplinary. Materials is one of the most applied sciences at Oxford, so lectures always relate to something interesting in the real world – aerospace, computing, medicine, energy, almost everything has some interesting Materials Science in it. After four years, you will start seeing things in the world very differently!

There are lots of opportunities to travel, including industrial visits; the student-led industrial tour (22 of us went to Beijing last Easter); and research placements (I went to Tokyo last summer). The department gives a lot of help in funding these experiences, as they're so valuable for appreciating the work we do in the classroom and are also really good fun!

Alex, St Anne's, student from 2011

Materials Science is a combination of Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering, focusing on how materials behave, why they behave as they do, and how to improve them. The first year builds upon some of what you’ll have learned at school, especially in Maths and Physics, and introduces some new topics such as crystallography to give you the fundamental knowledge to understand metals, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, superconductors – basically any material that you can think of in any application. Second year delves deeper into the subjects introduced in first year, while in third year, you choose six advanced options that you're most interested in. The highlight of the course is fourth year, when you will do a research project supervised by a world-leading professor, and write a thesis on it.

What makes Oxford different?

  • The department is really small and friendly. Lectures here are the size of classes at other universities, so questions are encouraged, and lecturers are approachable and happy to help you.
  • You will meet experts whose enthusiasm for materials rubs off on you, and makes learning more enjoyable. In tutorials, you can follow your interests and learn beyond the problem sheet.
  • The small class size means you can use some more advanced equipment in labs that undergraduates at other universities wouldn’t normally get to use.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

There are loads of books on the suggested reading list that are interesting. JE Gordon's classic book "Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century" is a good introduction to the mechanical (old school) side of the subject.

When applying, I had a bit of an addiction to the "How it’s Made" series on YouTube.

Jeremy, Teddy Hall, student from 2012

Tell us about your interview?

Interviews are different for everyone but generally just think before you speak, be polite and nice, and just relax. The tutors will probably be just as nervous as you. The interviews often have a mathematical and a deduction/thinking part.

Jeremy, Teddy Hall, student from 2012

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Materials interviews for more information.

Find out more

Course length: 4 years
Students per year: 30

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.

You might also find it helpful to hear from students studying Physics, Engineering or Chemistry (or even consider applying for those courses!).