Materials Science and NanoEngineering

Studying materials science and nanoengineering at Rice, you will work with like-minded students in a collaborative environment. Through a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary curriculum, our engineers are taught to embrace creative problem-solving techniques, hone leadership skills and use their engineering abilities to tackle real-world issues.

The Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering at Rice University offers two undergraduate degrees. A Bachelor of Arts is a more flexible degree for students looking to pursue areas of interest outside of engineering. The Bachelor of Science is an accredited program that prepares students for the professional practice of engineering or a career in academia.

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Degrees Offered

* Program is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. Learn more about enrollments and degrees awarded for programs in the George R. Brown School of Engineering School.

Related Minors

By the Numbers

  • Top 20 Best Materials Undergraduate Program, U.S. News & World Report
  • 2.2 to 1 Undergraduate Students to Faculty Ratio
  • 50% Undergraduate students are women

Strategic Goals

Designing and utilizing materials is essential to modern society.

The Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering at Rice seeks to fulfill this mission with a focus on 4 strategic goals:

  1. Provide a curriculum that reflects the social responsibilities and technological advances in all engineering fields that interface materials science and nanoengineering.
  2. Create an environment that fosters diversity, equity and inclusion, and promotes lifelong education and learning.
  3. Offer all undergraduates opportunities in research endeavors.
  4. Equip students with effective communication and data management skills for outstanding careers in academia, entrepreneurship, government, and industry through exceptional teaching, research, and strategic partnerships.


Why should I study Materials Science?

Materials science is a vital pillar of modern society and is behind the scenes of almost every industrial sector, such as manufacturing, electro­nics, and energy. Materials scientists aim at developing new materials with extraordinary properties, like ultra-strong, ultralight, super-re­sistive to heat, superconductive, biomimetic, environmentally friendly, etc. If you think about human history, we name our eras after materials, such as the stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. New materials will conti­nue to shape history and provide better lives to people.

What do students do when they graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Materials Science?

Our students enjoy broad career perspectives and have succeeded in diverse companies of both engineering and non-engineering discipline. Of the 10 technological frontiers identified by Congress in the next 5-10 years, 5 are related to materials.

For those of you who consider pursuing a research career, about 30% of graduates enter Ph.D. studies in top programs including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc. We also have students going to public sectors such as the US Navy for research.

For those of you who would like to directly work in the engineering industry, our alumni found jobs along these frontiers: advanced manufacturing companies like General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Keyence; semiconductors in companies like Hewlett-Packard; advanced information systems in companies like Google and Microsoft; advanced energy in companies like Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.

Finally, quite a few students went to non-engineering fields that require engineering knowledge or training, particularly business consulting firms like McKinsey and Boston consulting group.

If I am considering this major, what classes do I have to take this year?

For your first year, certainly try MSNE 201 - Intro to NanoEngineering (3) or MSNE 222 – Biomimetic Materials (3).

Others are general mathematics and science courses: MATH 101-102, Single Variable Calculus (6); MATH 211-212, Ordinary Differential Equa­tions (6); PHYS 101/111-102/112 Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism with Lab (8); CHEM 121/123-122/124, General Chemistry with Lab (8); CMOR 220 - Introduction to Engineering Computation (3). They apply to all other engineering departments so you can also decide your major later.

If I have AP credit, should I use it or are there classes I should consider retaking anyway?

If you had many AP/transferred credits, yes, they work great. Then, you can take more specialized courses: CAAM 334/335/MATH 355 - Matrix Analysis Data Science/Matrix Analysis/Linear Algebra; MECH 202 - Mechanics/Statics (3); PHYS 201/CHEM 211 - Waves, Light, and Heat/Organic Chemistry I (3); MSNE 301 - Materials Science for Engineers (3)

How should I decide whether or not to use my AP credit?

In most cases, you can use AP credit without any problem because it releases your junior/senior year for more research experience.

Can I study abroad? If so, when is the best time?

In the summer, MSNE supports multiple international exchange programs, such as a position in renewable energy in India. For those students who participate in research during the semester, our faculty provides strong recommendations for applications to other international summer research programs. Past successful applications include experiences in Singapore, Spain, Germany, Brazil, and Costa Rica.

What kind of research opportunities are available to your students?

Our research resources per undergraduate student are among the highest in the US. About 50% of students participate in research in faculty's labs over the past few years. Most research internees contributed to research articles, and in some cases as first authors or primary co-authors in high-impact journals such as ACS Nano and Advanced Materials. Our students have worked on additive manufacturing, batteries, quantum materials, etc., and found the experience not only a bridge to graduate school but also valuable for entering the industry and public sectors.

What extracurricular activities or projects do students in your program normally participate in?

MSNE support students engaging in leadership development and positive impact to the local communities. For example, we fund the Rice Undergraduate MSNE society, a self-governed student club that manages study groups, acade­mic advising to freshmen and sophomores, as well as outreach activities in residential colleges. The club also organizes weekly MSNE lunch and annual MSNE awards banquet. Our students also participate in groups such as the Marching Owl Band, Rice Philharmonics and even Division I Athletics.

What do classes in MSNE normally look like?

Core courses are divided into 5 groups:

  1. General introduction to materials science that any non-major students can take, including MSNE 201 Introduction to Nanoengineering, MSNE 222 Biomimetic Materials, and MSNE 211 introduction to materials science for Engineers. Since Rice allows declaring a major in sophomore year, you may use these courses to evaluate your interest in MSNE.
  2. Basic knowledge and practical skills in materials engineering, including MSNE 302 materials processing, 311 design, and 304 junior laboratory. These courses give you an idea of what to expect in your job as a materials engineer. For example, in the junior lab: A student who went to an aerospace company for an interns­hip said he did exactly the things we taught in the classroom which prepared him well.
  3. Advanced knowledge, including MSNE 401 thermodynamics, 402 materials mechanical properties, 406 electrical and magnetic properties, and 435 atomic structural analysis. The knowledge is important for you to understand how to improve materials performance and diagnose possible problems.
  4. A year-long capstone design project to team up and work on innovative projects from companies, often related with a real product. For example, this past year, Intel sponsored research for monitoring the processor temperature. Arc Specialties, an automated manufacturing system supplier, sponsored a project for knee joint medical implants.
  5. Specialized topics that overview of the specific features and applications of different materials including metals, semiconductors, ceramics and glasses, polymer, composites, and biomaterials. We also teach trending technologies for materials work. Some of them are graduate-level but nevertheless open to undergrads with approval. These include nanomaterials, machine-learning in materials selection, 3D printing materials, quantum materials, etc.
Is the curriculum flexible enough for students to pursue other interests? i.e. Can I complete a minor, take classes outside the major or specialize further within the major?

Yes, our required credits are about the same as other engineering departments and give room to minors. We even have students double majoring in law or business. We have 9 elective credit hours for either outside the major or inside the depart­ment for specialization among 20+ different subjects.

Are there any other things I should know about MSNE?

Go visit our website and meet our faculty and students! We are one of the only three departments in the US to have the phrase Nano in the name (the others being UCSD and University of North Carolina).

Our reputation and heritage in nanoscience goes back to the discovery of C60 in 1985 by Dr. Smalley and Dr. Curl at Rice, which earned them the Nobel Prize, and since then have grown rapidly. Rice Materials Science was ranked No. 1 globally by 2010 according to Time as the result of research across multiple departments.

As a student in the MSNE department, you also benefit from interaction with world-leading scientists on campus. This is facilitated by the fact that we are a small department and small campus in general and everyone is close with each other.

Student Experience

Contact Rice MSNE

Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering
George R. Brown Hall, Second floor, Room E200E
(713) 348-3698