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Published on December 10th, 2013 | By: Eileen De Guire


What is a ceramic engineer?

Published on December 10th, 2013 | By: Eileen De Guire

PCSA Green 2013

ACerS president David Green—a materials scientist by training—speaks to the President’s Council of Student Advisors in Montreal, most of whom are materials scientists in training. What makes any of them ceramic engineers? (Image above: Richard Brow, then ACerS president, with the PCSA in Montreal 2013.) Credits: ACerS.


ACerS president David Green is not a ceramic engineer. He holds a BS in chemistry and BS, MS, and PhD degrees in materials science. He describes his undergraduate MSE degree as a metallurgy curriculum with a polymers course added in. No ceramics.


In fact, he told me in a recent interview that he did not encounter ceramics until he started graduate school, and then only because there were no metallurgy projects on the topic that interested him the most—fracture. Instead, a metallurgy professor directed Green to a guy down the hall who had a project on fracture, but fracture of ceramics. “And I said, ‘Ceramics? What the heck are ceramics?’“ Green recounts with a laugh.


Green was accepted on the project to study fracture of zirconia. “I didn’t know anything about ceramics. I didn’t know anything about zirconia, but it was fracture, so—OK. I can count very closely to the day when I started my ceramic career. It was when I took on this project with Dr. Pat Nicholson and started working on fracture of zirconia at McMaster University in Canada. That’s how I got involved in ceramics,” he recalls.


Clearly, Green has identified himself as a ceramic engineer and scientist ever since that auspicious start. To me, the story begs the question—What is a ceramic engineer? (This includes glass scientists, too, of course.)


I am a ceramic engineer. I base my claim on two diplomas stating as much and my having worked as a glass researcher for a few years a long time ago. Green, on the other hand, has worked on ceramic materials his entire working career, even though his diplomas are in the more general field of materials science.


As surely as oxidation persists, ceramic and glass materials will be here to stay. However, ceramic engineering programs are not. In the United States, for example, most ceramic engineering and metallurgy programs have been absorbed into materials science and engineering departments. The Society was founded 115 years ago to meet the professional needs of those who worked on ceramic and glass materials. At the time of ACerS founding in 1898, only one ceramic engineering program existed in the US—Ohio State University’s five-year old Clay-Working and Ceramics Department. Evolution has brought us to a similar situation, and today the Society has a similar mission.


So, what makes someone a ceramic materials engineer or scientist?


How about this list?


A ceramic engineer

· Works on materials that are inorganic and nonmetallic

· Works on functional and structural materials (as opposed to condensed matter, for example)

· Is multidisciplinary, often working at the intersection of two fields such as materials and electronics or construction or biomedicine. This includes the intersection of material families, such as metals and ceramics.

· Is an enabler (refractories, for example, enable process metallurgy, heat treating, etc.)

· Is unique, specialized, smart, different, a team player, rare.


What do those of us who call ourselves ceramic or glass engineers and scientists think it takes to be one of us? What does it take to know enough about ceramics or glass to claim the expertise?


I want to know what you think.


What is a ceramic engineer? What makes YOU a ceramic engineer?

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4 Responses to What is a ceramic engineer?

  1. dennis.readey@comcast.net says:

    A “ceramic” is something useful made from one or more inorganic compounds. This may leave out carbons and graphite but no definition is completely inclusive. The nice thing about this definition is that it is pretty accurate, positive, and simple. So a “ceramic engineer” is someone who works with or makes ceramics that are used for other than purely artistic purposes. When asked, “What is a ceramic anyhow,” I sometime respond “Whatever I happen to be working on at the moment!” But that may be too restrictive and narrow.

  2. Lise Schioler says:

    I really wish we (ceramic engineers and scientists) would start defining ourselves by what we ARE instead of by what we ARE NOT (sorry for the caps, but it won’t let me underline). So instead of “Works on materials that are inorganic and nonmetallic” how about” “Works on materials that are multi-element, such as metals and metalloids covalently/ionically bonded with non-metals, and that are exposed to high temperatures either during processing or use.”

    I know it’s long and not that easy to understand, but at least it’s a positive definition.

    Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of “ceramic”: “A ceramic is an inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous (e.g., a glass).”

    From Wiki again “Ceramic materials are inorganic, non-metallic materials made from compounds of a metal and a non metal.”

    From the Free Dictionary: “Any of various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant materials made by shaping and then firing a nonmetallic mineral, such as clay, at a high temperature.”

    And here’s a definition that drives me crazy. Mirriam-Webster defines ceramic as “made of clay that has been heated to a very high temperature so that it becomes hard.” It’s so 17th century!

    Why isn’t ACerS trying to get dictionaries to update their definitions? And use an updated definition that is positive instead of negative?

    I hate to say how many people I know that think “ceramic” means polycrystalline. I argued with Michael Pinneo that his patent 5,075,095 “Method for preparation of diamond ceramics” had an inaccurate title. “Abstract: Processes are provided for consolidating diamond particles into a mechanically stable diamond mass, called a diamond ceramic. A compacted aggregation of diamond particles is subjected to low pressure PECVD conditions in the presence of atomic hydrogen, with or without a carbon source gas, whereby a mechanically stable diamond ceramic is formed substantially devoid of interstitial spaces.”

    Ok – I’ll get off of my soap box now.

  3. A ceramic engineer is someone who says, “Wow, I didn’t know dislocations could actually move!”

    I consider myself a metallurgical engineer who dabbles in ceramics and plastics, on account of a BSc in MetE, an MSc in MatSci with a ceramic-related thesis, and a dissertation in progress on injection molded SiC, also in MatSci. My career, which began at the Coors companies three decades ago, has included high-tech ceramics, aluminum cans, glass bottles, hardened steel tooling, stainless kegs, coated paperboard packaging and much more. I could call myself an MS&E, but it would require a detailed explanation every time. If someone accuses me of practicing ceramic engineering without a license (my PE is also in MetE), I say, “You got a problem with that?” On the other hand, no one ever mistakes me for a “civil” engineer.

  4. Richard Mistler says:

    I am a ceramic engineer and have been one since 1959 when I received my degree from Alfred University in Ceramic Engineering. I also collected a degree in Metallurgical Engineering and an ScD in Ceramics in 1963. I have worked with ceramics, metals, and polymers during my long career. I suppose I can be called a Materials Scientist but I prefer Ceramic Engineer. It is a small fraternity of engineers and I like it that way! I always considered ceramics as any inorganic, non metallic material. By that definition, as Dave Kingery put it, that also includes ice. He even wrote a book called Iceramics. I always felt privileged to be a member of this small fraternity of engineers and I still do.

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