Materials Science | University of Oxford
Materials Science
An interior view of the JET vacuum vessel, with a superimposed image of an actual JET plasma taken with a visible light camera.
(Credit: EUROfusion)

Materials Science

Materials Science is an interdisciplinary subject, spanning the physics and chemistry of matter, engineering applications and industrial manufacturing processes.

Modern society is heavily dependent on advanced materials: lightweight composites for faster vehicles, optical fibres for telecommunications and silicon microchips for the information revolution. Materials scientists study the relationships between the structure and properties of a material and how it is made. They also develop new materials and devise processes for manufacturing them. Materials Science is vital for developments in nanotechnology, quantum computing and nuclear fusion, as well as medical technologies such as bone replacement materials.

This diverse programme spans the subject from its foundations in physics and chemistry to the mechanical, electrical, magnetic and optical properties of materials, and the design, manufacture and applications of metals, alloys, ceramics, polymers, composites and biomaterials. This work is supported by excellent laboratory and teaching facilities.

In a course taught partly by the Saïd Business School, the programme also offers an opportunity to develop an introductory understanding of entrepreneurship (learning how to write a business plan, raise capital and start a company). There are also voluntary options to learn a language through Oxford's Language Centre.

The Oxford Materials degree includes in its fourth year the special feature of an eight-month full-time research project, when you join a research team here at Oxford in one of the strongest Departments of Materials in the UK or, occasionally, at an overseas university or in an industrial laboratory (additional costs may be associated with a project outside Oxford). You will learn how to break down a complex problem, design an experiment or model, manage a project and communicate your results. These research skills are transferable to many career paths and are valued highly by employers.

The current MEng degree is accredited by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) on behalf of the UK Engineering Council, towards the achievement of Chartered Engineer status.

Work placements/international opportunities

Students are encouraged to undertake a voluntary summer project in industry or a research laboratory. Recent locations for overseas summer projects have included Beijing, Zhejiang, Tokyo, Bochum, Krakow, Santa Barbara and Boston.

A voluntary industrial tour to an overseas destination is organised in most Easter holidays. Recent destinations include China, Sweden, Italy, Poland and Ontario.


Many of our graduates apply their technical knowledge in the manufacturing industry, both in management and in research and development positions. Others enter the financial, consultancy and IT sectors. A significant proportion of graduates undertake research degrees in universities in the UK and abroad.

Katherine says: ‘After leaving university I started work for Rolls–Royce (on aeroplanes, boats and power stations) as a graduate engineer, moving engineering roles within the company and around the globe every three months.’

A typical week

During years 1 and 2, the work is divided between lectures (about ten a week), tutorials/classes (about two a week) and practicals (two or three afternoons a week). Typically the work in preparation for each tutorial or class is expected to take six to eight hours.  Year 3 starts with a two-week team design project, and about eight lectures and two classes/tutorials a week for the first two terms. Most of term 3 is set aside for revision.  Year 4 consists of a supervised research project spanning three extended terms. 

Lectures throughout years 1-2 may be attended by the full year groups of around 40 undergraduate students; normally Materials Year 3 Options Courses lectures will be attended by a smaller number of undergraduates plus a small number of research students.  Some Year 1 classes, which support the lectures, are attended by the full year group of around 40.  Tutorials supporting the Year 1  and Year 2 Materials lecture courses are usually 2 to 4 students with a tutor.  The Year 1 and 2 Mathematics lectures are supported by small group tutorial classes, typically up to 6 students per group. The Year 3 Options lectures are supported by small group tutorial classes, typically 8-12 students per group.

The majority of tutorials and lectures are delivered by staff who are Professors or Associate Professors. Many are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may also be delivered by post-doctoral researchers or postgraduate research students.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

1st year


  • Structure of materials
  • Properties of materials
  • Transforming materials
  • Mathematics for materials science
  • Crystallography
  • Practical work
  • Foreign language (optional)


First University examinations: Four written papers; continual assessment components equivalent to a fifth paper

2nd year


  • Structure and transformation of materials
  • Electronic properties of materials
  • Mechanical properties
  • Engineering applications of materials
  • Foreign language (optional)
  • Supplementary subject (optional)
  • Mathematics
  • Practical work
  • Industrial visits
  • Entrepreneurship module
  • Industrial talks
  • Communication skills
3rd year


  • Materials options courses 1
  • Materials options courses 2
  • Team design project
  • Characterisation of materials or Materials modelling module 

Examples of current options courses are available on the Materials Science website.

(At the start of Year 3 it is possible to transfer to a 3-year BA degree in Materials Science, graduating at the end of Year 3. See essential further information about this on the course website. The BA is not accredited.)


Final University examinations, Part I: Six written papers; continual assessment components equivalent to a further two papers

4th year


Research project (full-time)
(Students are required to achieve 50% minimum in the Part I assessment in order to progress to Part II.)

Additional elements include Project management, Presentation skills and an optional foreign language course

Examples of project titles are available on the Materials Science website.


Final University examinations, Part II (equivalent to 4 papers): Project dissertation submitted and assessed; oral examination of project dissertation

For important additional detail on course content, progression and assessment, please visit the Materials Science website.
This programme outline is for illustrative purposes and details may change from time to time.The 1st year course is currently under review - see the Materials Science website for the latest information.

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

  • A-levels: A*AA (including Mathematics and Physics, with an A* in either Mathematics, Physics or Chemistry)
  • Advanced Highers: AA/AAB (with AA in Mathematics and Physics)
  • IB: 40 (including core points) with 766 at HL (including Mathematics and Physics, with 7 at HL in either Mathematics, Physics or Chemistry)
  • Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications)

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

GCSE-level Chemistry, or an equivalent, is also required. It is highly desirable to have Chemistry to A-level or equivalent, and if it is not studied to this level it is strongly recommended that it is studied to AS-level or equivalent. Further Mathematics (FM) can be helpful to students completing this degree programme but is not required for admission. For candidates studying Maths, Physics, Chemistry and FM to A-level, normally our conditional offer will require A*AA in the first three (the A* in any of these) and an expectation that you continue to study FM; an analogous offer will apply if instead of FM you are studying a different A-level in addition to the first three.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

All candidates must also take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) as part of their application.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our course fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support


A tuition fee loan is available from the UK government to cover course fees in full for Home (UK)/EU students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your course fees up front.

In 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less. This support is available in addition to the government living costs support.  See further details.

(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Materials Science

The fourth year is entirely devoted to research - a special feature of the Oxford MEng in Materials Science programme - consisting of a full-time individual research project under the supervision of a member staff. This final year has three extended terms of 12 to 13 weeks and is 37 weeks in total so you will need to budget for higher living costs in the final year, as you will be required to be in Oxford for longer than the standard terms. (See the likely range of living costs for an additional month in Oxford.) During the project you will learn how to break down a complex problem, design an experiment or model, manage your time and project, maintain systematic records, present your work orally and write a substantial report. These research skills are transferable to other career paths and are valued highly by employers. On occasion significant scientific publications result from these projects.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written test

All candidates must take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) in their own school or college or other approved test centre on Wednesday 31 October 2018. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the test at this time. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is Monday 15 October 2018. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. We strongly recommend making the arrangements in plenty of time before the deadline.

Updates to PAT: The test consists of maths and physics questions, which are mixed in sequence (there are not separate maths or physics sections). Formula sheets, tables and data books are not permitted. Calculators will be permitted from 2018. Guidelines about the use of calculators along with details of the syllabus and links to supporting materials which candidates are encouraged to look at for preparation are available on the PAT page

Everything you need to know, including guidance on how to prepare, can be found on the PAT page

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

At interview, tutors are aware that students may not have encountered Materials Science at school or college. Tutors look for an ability to apply logical reasoning to problems in physical science, and an enthusiasm for thinking about new concepts in science and engineering.

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Materials Science website. 

Suggested reading

There is no set text and students should read widely around the subject. Introductory reading for prospective applicants to Materials Science can be found on the departmental website.

Students may also wish to read the New Scientist magazine which may be available in your school or local library.

Running an internet search on Nanoscience or Nanotechnology will give useful background information in the sciences.


Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.


'Being a Materials Scientist is rather like being a chemist, physicist, engineer and mathematician all rolled into one: perfect for the all-round scientist!

It is challenging, and requires a lot of effort and perseverance, but we get to carry out fun experiments involving orange jelly, molten metal and bubbles, so all the effort seems worth it.

Practical classes are particularly good for developing a hands-on approach, and then we also have industrial visits where you get to see where all the work is leading you. There are also opportunities to do voluntary summer placements, and an annual industrial tour abroad.

Oxford is a beautiful place to study, and I can really tell that I am learning from the best when I leave a tutorial, exhausted, but with a much higher level of understanding. I would definitely recommend Oxford as a place to read Materials Science, as there are so many resources and the course is just so varied, with extra options such as languages or ‘Building a Business’. Everyone really gets to know each other, and personally I have made some amazing friends on the course.

I have also dabbled in Fairtrade and journalism, and I am currently an ‘Entz rep’ at my college, which means that I organise college parties, and generally help make the place as fun as possible. Everyone at Oxford seems to manage the balance between working hard, playing hard and making the most of the best University experience available. I wouldn’t change being here for the world.'


First job after graduating

I went to do a PhD in Materials at Cambridge, sponsored by Rolls-Royce plc.

Current job

I am now a consultant engineer at Frazer-Nash, a systems and engineering consultancy firm. I work on both materials engineering and software projects, focussing on helping our clients improve the performance, risk and cost profile of their physical assets and infrastructure.

How did Oxford prepare you for this type of work?

The course at Oxford was ideal preparation for my career: it gave me a solid grounding in a subject matter that is both niche and essential for my work. The tutorial system also required me to regularly deliver complex work: this is not far removed from life as a consultant.

What was the most important thing your time at Oxford taught you?

Not only did I learn a huge amount about my chosen subject, I learned how to independently go about finding out about a topic. This skill has been hugely valuable, and has routinely fired my imagination about a whole variety of diverse subjects including coding, philosophy and applied maths.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college

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