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


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 define our history with materials, such as the stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. New materials will continue to shape history and provide better life 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. Consider the 10 technological frontiers identified by Congress in the next 5-10 years, 5 out of 10 are related to materials.

For those of you who consider pursuing a research career, about 30% of graduates enter PhD study 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 would like to directly work in the engineering industry, our alumni have jobs in the following frontiers: advanced manufacturing for companies like General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Keyence; semiconductors for companies like Hewlett-Packard; advanced information systems for companies like Google and Microsoft; advanced energy for companies like Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.

Finally, quite a few students have gone on 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 to take: MSNE 201 - Intro to NanoEngineering (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); CAAM 210 - 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 summer, MSNE supports multiple international exchange programs, including two positions in nanotechnology in China, and one 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 is among the highest in the US. About 50% of students participate in research in faculty members’ labs over the past few years on average. Most research internees contributed to research articles, and in some cases as first author 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 industry and public sectors.

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

MSNE supports 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 lunches and annual MSNE award banquet.

What do classes in MSNE normally look like?

Core courses are divided into 5 groups:

  1. General introduction of materials science that any non-major students can take, including MSNE 201 introduction to nanoengineering and MSNE 301 materials science for engineers. Since Rice allows declaring major in sophomore year, you may experience these courses first and evaluate your interest later.
  2. Basic knowledge and practical skills in materials engineering, including MSNE 302 materials processing, 311 design, and 304 laboratory. These courses give you an idea of what to expect in your job as a materials engineer. A student in a junior lab course, 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 minor. We even have students double majoring in law or business. We have 9 elective credit hours 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 at and video-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 Materials Science 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