DEPARTMENT OF MATERIALS UNDERGRADUATE BROCHURE
Comments by Alumni
Andrew Geddes - (St Catherine’s, 1965)
The subject used to be called metallurgy in my time. I liked the idea of a more applied subject and it seemed so much more promising than straight chemistry.
Good news that they now have the Economics and Management option which is a sector that has always interested me. You will also find that sooner or later you may end up in management anyway, either for a big corporation or for your own company. I started off with Rio Tinto in market development of Pb & Zn, then moved to Al & alumina covering the commercial aspects of their share of Angelsey Aluminium. After 5 years I moved to an international trading company and I have worked in this sector ever since having done business with about 70 countries around the world and regular visitor to 50.
A lot of contact on trade finance with the banks, as well as with the London Metal Exchange for hedging of the physical position. Lived mostly in the UK but also in Switzerland for 16 years where I am still a regular visitor for another trading company. I also get appointed as an Expert Witness in commercial disputes on alumina or metals contracts.
All extremely interesting and it is a pleasure to be active in this sector of business. It would not have been so easy if I had chosen a different subject to study.
Markus Mittermaier (Mansfield, 2007)
My next stop after Oxford Materials, Economics and Management (MEM) has been the venture capital arm of Siemens, a large German engineering conglomerate which invests in high tech start up companies. Whilst I am not likely to be called upon to design a state of the art aircraft wing anytime soon, the knowledge I gained through the Materials course stands me in good stead to understand the intricacies of the technologies we are investing in. In fact, I was both surprised and pleased that the very first deal I was involved in had me delve back into my microplasticity lecture notes during the technological assessment phase of the company.
The company being a spin out from a Materials Department in the US and my being the only one with a Materials background on the investing team allowed me to quickly assume rather senior tasks in this transaction.
The Economics and Management knowledge, particularly related to finance, obtained as part of my joint honours programme has also proved useful. In fact, I cannot imagine a course more suited to my chosen career than the Oxford MEM course.
This is not to say that everyone will have the same experience as I had or that I will forever be involved in investments in Materials technologies. However, beyond the pure factual knowledge, I believe the skills that will really stand the test of time will be the analytical thinking inculcated in us during tutorials. This gives me the ability to tackle problems from first principles, think outside the box and provide solutions quickly. It is this aspect of the Oxford education that I find useful each and every day.
Tamara Lim (Trinity, 2006)
I graduated in June 2006 after completing my 4th year abroad at Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researching in “Biodegradable Bone Screws”. During my time in Oxford, I have managed to obtain some of the Department’s generous prizes such as the Corus Prize for top practical marks and the Worshipful Company of Ironmonger’s Prize for best presentation in 4th year. Currently, I am working at Shell Global Solutions BV in Amsterdam as a Materials and Corrosion Engineer. Shell Global Solutions is the consulting arm of Shell with the cutting-edge know-how commercialised and being offered as a service to other parts of Shell and 3rd party oil companies.
The Materials Science course at Oxford has been really wonderful to be a part of. It is a small department where everybody knows everybody and the level of attention and recognition within the Materials department makes a student feel they are never lost. It is furthermore very challenging and offers a variety of interesting courses (especially in 3rd year, such as “Advanced Engineering Alloys” and “Biomaterials”), with scope for teamwork (3rd year Team Design Project) and options to join your degree with Economics and Management, as well as complete your 4th year abroad in another country. It widened my perspective on the important role Materials play in our everyday standard of living, from cement for construction to semi-conductor chips in our computers, how manufacturing and fabrication makes such a difference to material properties, how altering the atomic arrangement can vastly change the properties of a product (e.g: titanium alloys), and the list goes on. It interfaces with many industries such as aerospace, oil and gas, semi-conductor, medical and automotive. The topics are very much alive and cutting-edge (with a chance to make a new discovery in 4th year) and materials scientists are a rare and valued breed in the engineering world today so job prospects are good after graduation.
Sarah Haigh (St Anne's, 2004)
For me one of the highlights of studying materials at Oxford was the opportunity to complete a year long research project. My project involved researching the properties of a new type of superconductor material using an instrument called a NanoSIMS. This is a very powerful piece of equipment, one of only a few in the world and worth millions of pounds.
When I graduated I wanted to continue to do cutting edge scientific research and the department had just taken delivery of one of the most advanced electron microscopes in the world (an instrument costing even more than the NanoSIMS). I therefore decided to stay in the materials department in order to study for a doctorate. My research involves using this instrument to image atoms and therefore understand a material’s structure at ultra high resolution.
I have developed programs to combine the images in new ways in order to obtain more information about a material. Since graduating less than three years ago I have had the opportunity to travel, teach and work all over the world and have really enjoyed it!
Although my current work is highly specialised I have benefited greatly from the broad background in materials that I gained as an undergraduate. My degree also gave me the confidence to tackle seemingly impossible problems, a skill that I think is probably invaluable whatever your chosen career.
Professor George Smith FRS (Corpus Christi, 1965)
I was the first person from my family ever to go to University. I became interested in materials science when a former pupil from my school invited me to look round the laboratory where he worked. I applied to Oxford, won a scholarship and progressed from undergraduate to Professor in the Department of Materials, where until recently I was Head of Department.
My research work involves looking at atoms at specific locations in materials and chemically identifying what they are (this is now called nanoscience). Together with some colleagues, I started a spin-out company, Oxford Nanoscience, which produces the special ‘Atom Probe’ equipment needed to see and identify atoms (see accompanying photograph). This company has now been floated on the stock exchange, as part of a larger group.
Dr Annette Bramley (St Catherine’s, 1994)
The highlight of my Materials degree at Oxford was the final year project which ignited a passion for research which shaped my future career. Initially, I stayed in academia but after a few years I felt that I needed to widen my horizons, so I joined the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
I’m now Head of both Engineering and Complexity Science Programmes, managing an annual research budget of around £100M, investing in universities to ensure that the UK maintains its reputation for scientific excellence, builds a strong economy and improves people’s quality of life.
As a Materials undergraduate at Oxford I learned a lot about materials science, but looking back I can also identify many other skills I developed then that I now use every day. Because I studied for a degree that is a mixture of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering, my approach to science is multidisciplinary and looks across traditional subject boundaries to where the interesting challenges are. In tutorials I honed my ability to think analytically and through practical classes and my final year project I learned to communicate better with others and to work as part of a team. I also learned to plan and organise my time to fit in all the things I wanted to experience from Oxford - which is especially useful now as I balance work and home!
Nick Rounthwaite (St Edmund Hall, 2007)
I chose to study Materials Science, as I knew I wanted to study a science, but was interested in too many areas, which were not all covered by a single traditional Chemistry, Physics or Biology degree. Materials allowed me to study a variety of topics and each course involved not just theories, but also the practical applications of the lecture contents. Following my graduation earlier this year, I have decided to embark on a research degree, the DPhil, here at Oxford Materials. My summer placement in Colorado and my eight-month 4th year research project left me in no doubt that pursuing a research degree was the correct career route for me. In the first two years of the undergraduate course there were subjects that were enjoyable and those that were more tedious, but all were interesting and the way the exams were set out it was possible to focus on my best subjects.
The third year options were the most enjoyable lectures as it was possible to specialise in the areas I was better at. As all exams are at the end of the third year, the fourth year is a lot less stressful than many other courses, as long as you start your research project write-up in good time. I chose to study tissue expanders in the biomaterials laboratory for my final year, but there is huge choice from research into silicone wafers to metal casting.
Perhaps the best part of the Oxford Materials Department is its size. The small number of undergraduates means that everybody knows everybody. On top of this lecturers are often tutors, so it is easy to find either students or tutors to get advice on work. During the summer vacation of my third year, with the assistance of the Department of Materials at Oxford, I was able to spend several weeks working on a research project in the Materials Department at the Colorado School of Mines in the US.
Outside of academia, there is a huge amount to do in Oxford. In my four years I have street luged, bungee jumped and helped rebuild two classic Alfa Romeos for motor racing. All of these have been helped by the 9 and 10 am lectures, which may have destroyed my dreams of student length lie-ins, but meant I was able to get involved with a huge amount in and around Oxford.