The graduate program is designed to give students
an understanding of general phenomena in all materials, plus
a deep understanding of at least one class of materials. Students
may enter the graduate program with undergraduate preparation
in physics, chemistry, engineering, or materials science. After
a year or two of coursework, and after a candidacy examination,
a graduate student concentrates on his or her primary task—Ph.D.
thesis research on a modern problem in materials science.
Click for the latest Materials Science brochure (pdf).
Descriptions of individual classes in materials science can
be found in the Caltech
Catalog listings, or more informally in our own Materials
Science Course listings. The first section below, Courseload,
describes unit requirements and typical numbers of classes
The second section below, Core Courses for the Ph.D., is a
general description of the required course program for graduate
study in materials science. The required courses are described
with legal precision in the Catalog requirements for graduate
degrees in materials science. You should click here to open
another browser window to display these Catalog requirements.
(The Materials Science requirements are in the middle of a
long list of the requirements of various other options. It
might be easier to find them in a printed Catalog) You will
need to refer to the the list of Core Courses in this new browser
Unlike the text in the Catalog requirements for graduate degrees
in materials science, the ideas behind the requirements are
explained below in the section Core Courses for the Ph.D. If
you seek an alternative to the Catalog requirements that is
consistent with the ideas explained below, you are encouraged
to discuss your plan of study with your adviser and the Option
Representative for Materials Science. We like new ideas.
Applications are available online from the Graduate
The graduate program for the Ph.D. degree requires five 1
year sequences of core lecture courses. We have three quarters
per year, and each one-quarter course is 9 units (except
MS 132), so note that 5x3x9 = 135 units. A seminar course
is also required, but this is a trivial effort (you report
your attendance at a weekly seminar). The total units of
core courses are: 135 + 3 extra in MS132 + seminar units.
Most first-year graduate students in materials science
take 3 or 4 core courses per quarter. To obtain the 36
units required to qualify as a full-time student, a first-year
student taking 3 lecture courses will concurrently take
9 units of MS 200 (research). Second-year students typically
carry a smaller load of core courses, but they are expected
to be more involved in research, and second-year students
must take time to prepare for the candidacy
examination, taken near the end of the second academic
year. After passing the candidacy examination, students typically
take no more courses, and devote all their energy to thesis
research. (This change from courses to research is a major
transition in a young person's scientific career.) Most of
our students file their Ph.D. thesis in bit over 4 years,
so they graduate in the Commencement ceremony at the end
of their fifth academic year.
The Master's degree can be completed in one year, although
two is more typical. First-year students who take 4 core courses
per term will have at least 4x3x9 = 108 course units. Together
with 27 units of research (9 units per quarter), the student
will have completed the right balance of 135 units to obtain
a Master's degree in Materials Science.
Two Sequences Required of Everyone
Materials are defined by their internal structures, so all
students in materials science must complete a sequence of
courses on real space structure and k-space structure (MS
131 and 132). A term on kinetic processes (MS 133) follows.
Thermodynamics is a central topic for all materials, so all
students must complete a thermodynamics/statistical mechanics
sequence (item 2 on the list of core courses), together with
a course on phase transformations (MS 105).
Phenomena in a Class of Materials
Graduate students need to select a broad class of materials
for study such as, for example, crystalline solids or polymeric
liquids and solids. We require at least two quarters (2x9
=18 units) of study on fundamental phenomena in these materials.
This course sequence should cover general physical concepts
underlying the synthesis, structure and properties of the
selected class of materials. Typical courses are given in
item 3 of the list of core courses, but a student with other
ideas is encouraged to negotiate with his or her adviser
and the Option Representative for Materials Science.
Typically, however, students interested in metals, semiconductors,
or materials physics will take the course APh 114ab(c), Solid
State Physics. Students interested in polymers or materials
chemistry may take the courses Ch/ChE 147 and ChE/Ch 148, Polymer
Synthesis and Physics. Micromechanics, offered by the Applied
Mechanics Option under various course numbers, is appropriate
for students with interests in mechanical properties. Students
interested in ceramics may take the Solid State Physics sequence,
or perhaps Ge 114, Ge 214, Ge 260, Mineralogy, Spectroscopy
of Minerals, Physics of Earth Materials.
Concepts Underlying the Phenomena
The concepts used in courses on phenomena in materials rest
on thermodynamics and structure (which are covered in the
two sequences required of everyone). There are additional
concepts from physics and chemistry that a materials scientist
needs in order to understand the internal interactions within
materials. For example, Solid State Physics relies heavily
on Quantum Mechanics, Micromechanics relies on Mathematical
Elasticity Theory, and Polymer Chemistry relies on the Nature
of the Chemical Bond. Item 4 in the list of Core Courses
specifies these additional required classes.
Item 5 in the Core Course list is typically a third term of
a sequence under items 3 and 4. If this third term is not offered,
or if it is less productive than an alternative, a different
course should be substituted.
Mathematics is used widely in the courses described above.
We rarely admit graduate students to Caltech who have had
no prior exposure to partial differential equations, for
example. Nevertheless, there is a wide range of mathematical
competence of first-year graduate students. The mathematics
requirement is designed to extend the student's mathematical
competence. We do not demand a specific level of mathematical
competence, however. A student should choose a mathematics
course that is challenging, but not excessively so.
We have summarized unofficially, in chronological order, all
required steps towards the Ph.D. degree. New and continuing
graduate students should consult this chronological list periodically
during their time at Caltech.