Materials Science and
Engineering Program

[ courses | faculty ]

Student Affairs: Engineering Building 2, Room 181
Warren College

All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice. Updates may be found on the Academic Senate website:

Materials science and engineering is concerned with the structure, properties, and applications of materials. The university-wide Materials Science and Engineering Program (MSE) at UC San Diego aims to provide fundamental knowledge for understanding of materials with the objective of predicting, modifying, and tailoring the properties of materials to yield enhanced material performance.

The foundations of materials science are the basic sciences of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering principles. The interdisciplinary nature of the program at UC San Diego is ideally suited to address this requirement. The graduate students in the Materials Science and Engineering Program benefit from the unique and broad combination of faculty members and research facilities existing at UC San Diego, in the Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, NanoEngineering, Physics, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Structural Engineering, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as the School of Medicine and the Division of Biological Sciences. Students pursuing their MS or PhD degree in the MSE Program can have any faculty member from these participating departments and schools in UC San Diego as their thesis adviser or co-adviser, based on matching of the interests and/or financial support arrangements.

Of particular emphasis within the program are: a study of microstructure-property relationships; design of electronic, superconducting, magnetic, and nanomaterials for electronic and high-tech device and energy applications; optical and chemical materials for telecom and display applications; biomaterials and medical device materials for biotech applications; experimental investigation and theoretical modeling of the mechanical behavior of materials; and advanced composite materials for civil structures.

The Graduate Program

The Materials Science and Engineering Program at UC San Diego is interdisciplinary, with participation of faculty members from several departments. Faculty from the following departments participate in the Materials Science and Engineering Program: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Physics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Structural Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, NanoEngineering, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Bioengineering, the Division of Biological Sciences, the School of Medicine, and the School of Pharmacy. The director of the program, in consultation with the executive committee, carries out the governance of the program. The executive committee coordinates all affairs of the Materials Science and Engineering Program, including student admissions, degree requirements, graduate courses in materials science given by various participating departments, maintenance of laboratory instructional facilities, seminars, special courses, part-time instructors, and related matters.

Undergraduate preparation for pursuing the MS and PhD in materials science and engineering at UC San Diego would normally include a degree in materials sciences, or in engineering or physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and related disciplines. Students are expected to have an adequate mathematics, physics, chemistry, and related basic sciences background, as well as acceptable GPA and GRE scores.

Master’s Degree Program

The program offers the MS degree in materials science and engineering under both the Thesis Plan I and the Comprehensive Examination Plan II; see “Graduate Studies: Master’s Degree.” The requirements for the MS degree are as follows:

  1. All students must complete a total of thirty-six units.
  2. All students must complete four Mandatory Core Courses and at least two of the Elective Core Courses:
    Mandatory Core Courses
    MATS 201A-B-C, MATS 227
    Elective Core Courses (required to select at least two to fulfill requirements)
    MATS 205A, MATS 251A–B, MATS 252, MATS 253, MATS 256, MATS 257, MATS 261A-B, Phys 152A, NANO 252
    (Physics 211A can replace 152A with adviser’s permission.) See “Courses” for description.
  3. Students may include up to twelve units of undergraduate courses. These include the one undergraduate core course, Physics 152A.
  4. Enroll in MATS 200, as required. See “Courses” for descriptions.
  5. Remaining courses to complete the thirty-six unit requirement for the MS degree may be selected from an approved list of graduate courses with the consent of a faculty adviser.
  6. Students either complete a thesis (Plan I) or pass a comprehensive examination (Plan II) as described in the “Graduate Division” section of this catalog.
  7. Students in thesis (Plan I) must complete six to twelve units of MATS 299.
  8. For students initially accepted into the PhD program who are completing MS requirements in Plan II, six units of MATS 299 may be used to fulfill the thirty-six unit requirement with both adviser and program chair approval. The six units of MATS 299 will provide credit for research completed by the student in coordination with their adviser.
  9. Courses must be taken for a letter grade. P/NP or S/U grades will not be accepted, with the exception of MATS 200 and MATS 299.
  10. Students must meet all other requirements established by the university.

Students who transfer with some graduate credit or an MS from another institution will have their records reviewed by a faculty adviser, and an appropriate individual course of study may be approved.

The PhD Program

After completing the MS degree (or meeting equivalent requirements) and meeting the minimum standard on the comprehensive examination or successfully defending a thesis, to be admitted to or continue in the PhD program, a student must:

  1. Meet all of the university’s residency and other requirements.
  2. Successfully complete three advanced graduate courses (in addition to those required for the MS degree) that have been approved by the student’s potential dissertation adviser. Courses must be taken for a letter grade. P/NP or S/U grades will not be accepted.
  3. Courses must be taken for a letter grade. P/NP or S/U grades will not be accepted, with the exception of MATS 200 and MATS 299. 
  4. Enroll in MATS 200, as required. See “Courses” for descriptions.
  5. Pass the Literature Review Examination. This requirement must be successfully completed within one year after passing the Comprehensive Examination.
  6. Pass the PhD Qualifying Examination (Senate Exam) to be advanced to PhD candidacy.
  7. Successfully complete and defend a dissertation, which in the opinion of the dissertation committee, contains original work that should lead to publication of at least one significant article in an appropriate refereed journal.

In principle, it should be possible to finish the MS degree in three quarters, and a PhD in an additional three years. PhD time limits are as follows: Precandidacy—four years; Support limit—six years; Total time limit—seven years; Normative time limit for a properly prepared BS student—five years. (See “Graduate Division–Doctoral Time Limits” for further explanation.)

Departmental Examination

The Comprehensive Examination

The examination will consist of twelve questions, two from each of the six core courses. A passing grade is 60 percent for the master’s degree, and 70 percent for the PhD. The examination will not exceed six hours in duration. The examination is usually administered a week after spring quarter finals week in June. Typically, students take the exam after one year of full-time enrollment. This exam may only be retaken once before the end of the second year of study.

The Literature Review Examination

The Literature Review Examination is aimed to test the student’s ability to prepare and present a comprehensive overview of a topic based on existing journal literature. It should be a comprehensive discussion of the literature, scientific theory, problems or theoretical deficiencies, and possible areas of research in an area of materials science and engineering. The topic may be in the general area in which the student plans to pursue his or her thesis research, or it may be in an unrelated field. The topic must be discussed and approved by at least one member of the MATSE program faculty. The Literature Review Examination may include either a presentation or report of the relevant literature. The presentation/report will be a part of the student’s file. Acceptable formats for the Literature Review Examination include a PowerPoint presentation or a written word document. The Literature Review Examination must occur within one year of the student’s having passed the Comprehensive Examination. The Literature Review must be approved by at least one member of the MATSE program faculty.

PhD in Materials Science and Engineering with Specialization in Multiscale Biology

A specialization in multiscale biology spanning four divisions—Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Jacobs School of Engineering, and Health Sciences—is available to doctoral candidates in materials science and engineering. The doctoral specialization is designed to allow students to obtain standard basic training in their chosen field within the biological sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and health sciences with training in integrative and quantitative analysis across multiple scales of biological organization from molecule to organism in health and disease into their graduate studies. For more information, students should contact the Student Affairs Office.