About materials, minerals and mining

What is Materials Science and Engineering?

Materials Science or Materials Engineering is the study of all of the materials we see around us every day.  From simple things we take for granted like the can holding our fizzy drink or the pen we write with, to materials pushing the boundaries of technology such as those used in aerospace, sports equipment or medicine.

Materials Science or Engineering forms a bridge between the sciences and engineering. It allows theory to be put into practice in a way which benefits everybody, since everything we do every day involves materials. Materials Scientists or Engineers look at all of the different groups of materials, metals and alloys, polymers, ceramics and composites. They develop new materials for new applications, improve existing materials to give improved performance and look at ways in which different materials can be used together.

Materials experts need a thorough understanding of how materials work. This means they are able to control the structure of a material, often on an atomic level, so that its properties, for example strength, can be tailored to suit a particular application. It is also important to understand how materials can be processed to the shape required and materials scientists and engineers have developed many novel ways of making things. A good example is the silicon microchip found in our computers.

What is minerals and mining engineering?

All of the materials we use around us originate from the ground. Mining and minerals engineers must develop economically and environmentally responsible ways of extracting these valuable resources. Mining engineers work with metal ores, diamonds, oil, coal, clays, limestone and granites to name but a few. Their primary responsibility is to safely extract these valuable minerals from the ground. This can involve working on the surface in strip mines, open pits or quarries, or deep underground where the temperature is high and there are large stresses on the rocks. Mining engineers require a knowledge of engineering, rock mechanics, geology, economics, surveying and management.

Once the mining engineers have safely extracted the minerals from the ground it is over to the minerals engineers, who are responsible for winning the valuable resources from their primary ores. A combination of physical, chemical and biological processes can be employed to do this, such as heating, dissolution, reduction, or electrolysis. The minerals engineer must understand which method or combination of techniques will be most effective at producing the maximum yield.

As our demand for minerals increases and our sources of primary ores are depleted, recycling and reclamation are becoming increasingly important. New developments allow resources to be extracted from contaminated land, domestic waste and the waste from previously mined deposits. It is also vital that former quarry and mine sites are restored to their original state.