Polymer Engineering and Technology

Polymer engineering and technology is part of the growing field of materials engineering that focuses on plastics and other polymers. Read about degrees available, job options and salaries in this field.

Is Polymer Engineering and Technology for Me?

Career Summary

Polymer engineering is a sub-field of materials engineering primarily focusing on the development of new products. Polymer engineers often study plastics, although other substances are also considered polymers.

With training in polymer engineering and technology, you might work as a polymer engineer, studying plastics and other polymers at the molecular level, selecting polymers for new applications and testing or processing plastics for new products. Alternatively, you might choose less scientific and more production-based work as an engineering technician or technologist, focusing on breaking down wood, cotton, petrochemicals and other raw materials to create polymers in an industrial plant.

Necessary Skills

With a career in polymer engineering and technology, you might also work 40-hour workweek in a laboratory or office, but deadline pressure may sometimes require you to work longer hours. Polymer engineers or polymer technicians need an analytical mind, inquisitiveness, creativity and attention to detail. Good communication and teamwork skills are also important. Additionally, a strong background in math and science and a familiarity with computer science are a good foundation for an engineering education.

Salaries and Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected job opportunities for all materials engineers to increase by one percent from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for materials engineers - including those who specialize in plastics and polymers - was $87,330 as of May 2013, according to the BLS. PayScale.com reported most engineering technicians earned between $31,477 and $72,853 as of April 2014.

How Can I Work in Polymer Engineering and Technology?

Education Programs

To become any type of engineer, you typically need a bachelor's degree in engineering. Although rather rare, bachelor's degree programs specific to polymer science and engineering are available. Bachelor's degrees in materials engineering are more common and typically also include courses in polymers. As of April 2014, ABET accredited nearly 60 4-year materials engineering programs.

Topics of Study

Polymer engineering majors require lots of math and science courses, including polymer chemistry, physics and calculus. Core courses may include thermodynamics, statics and material strength, polymer production and technology, polymer properties, polymer analysis and polymer processing. During a capstone course, you'll create an original polymer engineering project. A general materials engineering program usually includes some of the same courses, but also covers other materials, such as ceramics and metals.

Additional Education Options

Positions in academia or research and development may require you to complete a master's or doctoral program in polymer engineering and science. These programs plan advanced coursework in polymer and materials engineering to support your original research and thesis or dissertation.

Programs in plastics and polymer engineering technology, which are also accredited by ABET, can prepare you to work as an engineering technician or technologist. You can complete your education to qualify you to work as a technician in as little as two years with an engineering technology associate degree. Completing a 4-year technology program may be required for some technologist positions.

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