Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
Undergraduate Information

Rice University seeks to attract to its faculty, staff, and student body qualified persons of diverse backgrounds. In accordance with this policy, Rice does not discriminate in admission, educational programs, or employment against any individual on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, or handicap.


The following undergraduate degree programs are available in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science:

  1. Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering(ABET accredited);
       Goals and Objectives for a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering

  2. Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering

  3. Bachelor of Arts with a major in Mechanical Engineering

  4. Bachelor of Arts with a major in Materials Science
The formal requirements for these degrees are described in the linked documents. The degree programs emphasize fundamental instruction in several engineering-science subjects to insure that the student will be prepared to work effectively in a variety of new and undeveloped fields as well as in the well-established areas of engineering. The curricula outlines illustrate typical programs. However, considerable variation by substitution or by the use of elective courses is possible, and other special programs tailored for an individual student may be formulated and approved. Students who complete the four-year program receive either the Bachelor of Arts degree or the accredited Bachelor of Science degree, depending upon the course of study followed.

Some students may feel that their interests would be best served by majoring in more than one field. By proper selection of elective courses, multi-majors are possible and encouraged. Both the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science, in either Mechanical Engineering or Materials Science, are especially suited for a double-major program. Students in one of the Bachelor of Science programs who complete the major requirements of a second Bachelor of Science program can have an entry to that effect entered on their transcripts.

It is common for our undergraduates to enter the program with several hours of advanced placement credit. Such students have the opportunity to also obtain a Master of Mechanical Engineering degree. In the latter part of their program they can apply to the Graduate School and begin taking selected courses for graduate credit while completing the undergraduate requirements. While obtaining a BS degree is a significant step, a masters degree is viewed by many as the first "professional level" degree in mechanical engineering.

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineers generally deal with the relations among forces, work or energy, and power in designing systems to improve the human environment. They may work to extract oil from deep within the earth or to send a spacecraft to the moon. The products of their efforts may be automobiles or jet aircraft, nuclear power plants or air conditioning systems, large industrial machinery or household can openers. They are involved in programs to better utilize natural resources of energy and materials as well as to lessen the impact of technology on the environment.

Mechanical engineers, while strongly oriented towards science, are not scientists. Science is a search for knowledge. The science of mathematics extends abstract knowledge. The science of physics extends organized knowledge of the physical world. In each of these, consideration can be limited to a carefully isolated aspect of reality. The mechanical engineer must deal with reality in all its aspects. He or she must not only be competent to use the most classical and the most modern parts of science, but also must be able to devise and make a product which will be used by people. Moreover, the engineer must assume professional responsibility insofar as the safety and well-being of society are affected by those products.

A program in Mechanical Engineering will be a most stimulating and rewarding undergraduate experience for the great majority of students entering this field. Such a program is established by an educational environment created by men and women in contact with the world of people and industry. Engineering education is being called upon to produce graduates well versed in rapidly advancing science and who can lead industry and the public into the new world which engineering will make possible. Engineers will often discover in science, through their own research and invention or through the findings of scientists, those things which can be put to human use. In any engineering achievement, a new or better product is the objective; and all means available to the intellect of man will be employed to reach that objective. Science and its application remain a part, but only a part, of any great engineering advance. The first moon landing could have been devised and carried out only by mechanical engineers with great resources in science. In order to make the first spacecraft, science had to be combined with the engineer's drive toward creation of a predetermined object. Young people who can respond to this kind of challenge are needed now, and they will be needed as never before in the years ahead.

The Rice Mechanical Engineering program is also designed to prepare the student to succeed in graduate school. Many of our graduates continue on for advanced study in areas such as business, engineering, law, and medicine. Click here for the Goals and Objectives of the Mechanical Engineering program.

Professional Registration, Texas -- Fundamentals in Engineering Exam

The next Fundamentals in Engineering (FE) Exam will be given on the Rice campus Saturday, April 12, 2003. You should complete your application by February 17, 2003.

Materials Science and Engineering

Materials science is a modern-day engineering program concerned with the production, fabrication, and properties of materials used by society. These include metals and their alloys, semiconductors, ceramics, glasses, polymers, and composites of various materials.

All matter is made up of atoms of the elements found in the earth's crust. These atoms are combined in different ways in each of the various classes of materials. This results in materials exhibiting different electronic, atomic, molecular, and crystalline structures. A material's internal structure often consists of various chemical phases and crystalline regions of different orientation in space, both of which are connected by interface boundaries of atomic dimensions. The internal structure of a material can be further altered, for example, through heat treatment and/or deformation (as the turn-of-the century metallurgist would say, "heat it and beat it"). It is precisely the internal structure of a material which determines the solid's response to external mechanical (will it fracture?), electrical (will it conduct electricity?), or chemical (will it corrode?) forces. The materials scientist primarily involves himself or herself with producing the correct class of materials and subsequently altering the internal structure within the means available so that the component will perform satisfactorily in the application for which it is intended.

Four factors have been instrumental in bringing together this study of these different classes of materials in one curriculum:

  1. Thousands of new commercial compositions of metallic alloys, semiconductors, glasses, plastics, ceramics, and composites have appeared during the past few decades. This rapid growth demanded the education of broadly based materials scientists to develop and select the materials required by today's technology. Consequently, people working in various areas of the materials field began to think and work together in an interdisciplinary manner.
  2. Similar underlying mathematical, physical, and chemical concepts are now realized to form the basis for studying materials.
  3. The basic ingredient of many high-technology developments is the semiconductor. This material, as well as other electronic materials, has to be produced and processed to form the transistors, microcircuits, and computer memory devices of the communication and information industries. It requires a fundamental knowledge of materials science.
  4. The demand for products incorporating the best characteristics of different materials has led to the development of composites. A composite, for example graphite-epoxy, is a piece of matter in which two or more classes of materials are mechanically melded into a single structural or electrical component with the most desirable properties.

The materials scientist is not an applied mathematician, physicist, or chemist -- but, rather, a combination of all three. The materials scientist is interested in applying the basics of these three areas so that he or she may ultimately design, produce, fabricate, and utilize the materials necessary for the engineering requirements of today and tomorrow.

Industrial companies, such as those involved with the production and/or manufacture of metals, electronic parts, ceramics, glasses, polymers, or with materials fabrication, employ professional materials scientists. So do utility companies, consulting firms, governmental agencies, research institutes, educational institutions, and even publishing firms. For the potential engineer or scientist who asks, "Why does this material behave this way?" the broad-based study of materials science attempts to teach him or her how to answer this question.

In the next decade, the United States will commence to experience materials shortages beyond those of crude oil. Shortages in chromium and cobalt, for example, are anticipated. Industries need well-trained materials engineers to design, devise, and fabricate new materials to do the job previously accomplished with alloys or composites made-up of materials wherein no shortage in supply existed. This job market will undoubtedly be very demanding. The phenomenal rise of the electronics industry has created a demand for engineers with a strong background in the processing of and the properties of electronic materials, such as semiconductors.

The curriculum provides the student with the requisite skills and educational background to contribute to the solution of many materials problems, allow him or her to work in a fascinating field, and make it possible to become a leader in one of the most challenging technologies of today.

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Page Current as of
January 29, 2003