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DEGREE Materials Science and Engineering, PhD

Doctoral degree in materials science and engineering

Meeting many of the most critical challenges facing modern society requires advances in the materials that underpin new technologies—and the field of materials science and engineering is in the middle of a revolution in how we design and deploy new materials. As a PhD student in materials science and engineering, you’ll leverage advances in computational materials science; materials databases, data science, and machine learning; and high throughput materials synthesis and characterization to achieve true design of materials. And because materials research at UW-Madison crosses many departments, you’ll have the opportunity to work within a robust interdisciplinary community.

At a glance

Materials science and engineering department

active patents
undergraduate ranking among public universities
graduate ranking among public universities

Learn more about what information you need to apply.


Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline September 1
Summer Deadline December 15
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not exclusively in English, must provide an English proficiency test score earned within two years of the anticipated term of enrollment. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Requirements for Admission policy:
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Applicants normally are expected to have a BS in the physical sciences or engineering. Undergraduate studies normally would include mathematics through differential equations, at least one year each of general physics and chemistry, a course in physical chemistry or modern physics, and an elementary course in properties of materials. Applicants may be admitted with deficiencies. These must be made up as soon as possible after entering the program.


Required application materials:

A minimum GPA of 3.0/4.0 is required. Admission is highly selective. Most admitted applicants have an undergraduate GPA above 3.5. However, full consideration will be given to all applicants meeting the UW–Madison Graduate School requirements. 

Use the online application to begin your application. To be considered for fellowships, all application materials are due by the fall deadline.

International Applicants

International degree-seeking applicants must prove English proficiency using the Graduate School’s requirements.

Fee Grants

The Graduate School offers a limited number of application fee grants (covers of all or part of the application fee) that are available in a few specific circumstances.  Further information is available here.


 If you have questions about the application or admissions process, contact


Tuition and segregated fee rates are always listed per semester (not for Fall and Spring combined).

View tuition rates


Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

Financial Assistance

Various types of financial assistance are available for entering graduate students, including research assistantships, teaching assistantships, fellowships, and special grants. Decisions regarding financial support are made on the basis of letters of recommendation, grades, GRE general test scores, and, for research assistantships, the matching of the interests or experience of the applicant to the research programs of individual faculty members. December 15th is the deadline for receipt of fellowship applications. International students are generally not eligible for university fellowships. Applications for other types of support are accepted until mid-February.

Research and Teaching Assistantships

Research assistantships (RAs) are available in any materials science area. These appointments are under the supervision of the major professor directing the research. Students interested in research assistantships in a particular area are encouraged to contact professors whose work is of special interest. The faculty’s research interests are given in the Department of Materials Science And Engineering faculty section. An RA permits the most rapid progress toward a degree. Research assistantships in materials science graduate students are comparable to similar stipends from other institutions. Information about stipends can be obtained from the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies,

Teaching assistantships involve teaching rather than research experience. They pay approximately the same as research assistantships. Teaching experience is especially desirable for students considering an academic career. The Department of Materials Science and Engineering supports a limited number of teaching assistantships, which are allocated after admissions. 


Herb Fellowships in Materials Science are given out each year. The Herb Fellowship is a one-year full-ride fellowship for incoming graduate students. It is intended to provide especially strong students extra flexibility and independence in formulating their graduate research program.

Fellowships supporting graduate education are also offered on a competitive basis by organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the Hertz Foundation, UW-Madison Graduate School, the U.S. Department of Defense, and a number of industries and foundations. Because some of these fellowships have fall application deadlines, early application is necessary. GRE scores for the General Test are required for fellowship applications.

Other Funding Information 

If you choose to attend UW–Madison and plan to pursue funding on your own, the following sites could be very helpful:

Materials define the major technological ages of humankind and are central to overcoming challenges in areas that include energy, the environment and human health. We are developing materials’ most impactful new capabilities, including atomic and nanoscale control, 3D printing, low-dimensional and quantum properties, and predictive simulation and machine learning. Our facilities include outstanding equipment for synthesis, processing and characterization, and some of the most advanced tools in the world, from nano-calorimetry to ultrafast electron microscopy.

View our research

Curricular Requirements

Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 26 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement policy:
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. Refer to the Graduate School: Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement policy:
Other Grade Requirements n/a
Assessments and Examinations Qualifying Exam
  • Students must pass a qualifying exam in Materials Science and Engineering. The exam is an assessment of whether students have sufficient background in the areas of materials science and engineering relevant to their research to undertake graduate research. The exam consists of an oral examination covering two subjects, each with a committee of two faculty members. The exam must be attempted within 13 months of the start of the student’s first semester enrolled. If the first attempt is not passed, a second attempt is required within four months.

Preliminary Exam
  • Students must pass a preliminary exam / thesis proposal exam. The exam consists of a written document, a presentation, and an oral defense with the student’s doctoral committee. The written document is a forward-looking proposal for a plan of research that merits awarding of a PhD. The presentation should mimic the report, focusing on proposing new research and summarizing research to date. This exam is typically undertaken by the end of the fourth semester enrolled and must be undertaken by the end of the fifth semester. If the first attempt is not passed, a second attempt is required within three months. Students may earn the Materials Science and Engineering master’s degree the semester they pass their preliminary exam.

Doctoral Dissertation
  • Students must prepare a doctoral dissertation, present it in a public seminar, defend it in closed examination by their doctoral committee, and deposit it with the Graduate School. The seminar describes the student’s research resulting in significant new contributions to human knowledge in both a technical (science and engineering) and a broader societal context. It should be modeled after the hour-long departmental research seminars. In the closed session, the committee will question the student about the student’s research, both as presented in the seminar and in the thesis, including topics such as technical details about past work, implications for the field and society as a whole, and possible future directions. The committee may pass the student, require revisions to the thesis, or not pass the student on the exam.
Language Requirements None.
Graduate School Breadth Requirement All doctoral students are required to complete a doctoral minor or graduate/professional certificate. Refer to the Graduate School: Breadth Requirement in Doctoral Training policy:

If students choose a distributed minor (Option B), they must select a topic or theme and three courses around that theme. At least one course must be graduate level (numbered 700 or above or has graduate course attribute). There are no other restrictions on the course department or topic.

Required Courses

All course requirements are subject to modification or substitution to better serve the research needs of the student. Refer to the “Policies” tab for information on course substitutions. 

Before registering for the second semester, students must submit an advisor approved course plan to the graduate coordinator. Students are not restricted to this plan. Students and advisors are encouraged to update the plan. Updated versions are not required to be submitted. 

Materials Research Seminar2
Students must complete at least 2 credits of the following course for two consecutive semesters.
Materials Research Seminar
Materials Core Courses9
Students must complete three core courses (9 credits) from the following list:
Advanced Polymeric Materials
Thermodynamics of Solids
Structure of Materials
Advanced Materials Science: Phase Transformations
Graduate level math course (students may only count one of the following as materials core course)
Engineering Analysis I
Intermediate Problems in Chemical Engineering
Methods of Applied Mathematics 1
Methods of Applied Mathematics-2
Theoretical Physics-Electrodynamics
Materials Elective Courses6
Students must complete at least 6 credits from the “Materials Elective Courses” list.
Additional Coursework and/or Research (see below table)25
Total Credits51

Additional Coursework and/or Research Requirement

  • Before earning the master’s degree, students should register for M S & E 790 Master’s Research or Thesis.
  • After earning the master’s degree, students should register for M S & E 890 Pre-Dissertator’s Research.
  • Once in dissertator status, students should register for M S & E 990 Research and Thesis.

Materials Elective Courses

The same course may not satisfy more than one requirement. For example, if M S & E 530 Thermodynamics of Solids is taken as a “Materials Core Course”, it could not be used as a “Materials Elective Course”. Only one mathematics course may fulfill a “Materials Core Course” or “Materials Elective Course”. Refer to the “Policies” tab for information on how to enroll in a course outside of the list below.

M S & E 401 Special Topics in Materials Science and Engineering1-3
M S & E/​CHEM  421 Polymeric Materials3
M S & E/​N E  423 Nuclear Engineering Materials3
M S & E/​N E  433 Principles of Corrosion3
M S & E 434 Introduction to Thin-Film Deposition Processes3
M S & E 441 Deformation of Solids3
M S & E 448 Crystallography and X-Ray Diffraction3
M S & E 451 Introduction to Ceramic Materials3
M S & E 456 Electronic, Optical, and Magnetic Properties of Materials3
M S & E 460 Introduction to Computational Materials Science and Engineering3
M S & E 461 Advanced Metal Casting3
M S & E/​M E  462 Welding Metallurgy3
M S & E 463 Materials for Elevated Temperature Service3
M S & E 465 Fundamentals of Heat Treatment3
M S & E/​CIV ENGR/​G L E/​GEOSCI  474 Rock Mechanics3
M S & E 521 Advanced Polymeric Materials3
M S & E 530 Thermodynamics of Solids3
M S & E/​E M A  541 Heterogeneous and Multiphase Materials3
M S & E 550 Materials Fundamentals3
M S & E 551 Structure of Materials3
M S & E 553 Nanomaterials & Nanotechnology3
M S & E 560 Fundamentals of Atomistic Modeling3
M S & E 570 Properties of Solid Surfaces3
M S & E 648 Advanced X-ray Scattering Methods in Materials Science and Engineering3
M S & E 660 Mesoscale Modeling of Materials3
M S & E 748 Structural Analysis of Materials3
M S & E 750 Imperfections and Mechanical Properties3
M S & E 752 Advanced Materials Science: Phase Transformations3
M S & E 756 Structure and Properties of Advanced Electronic Materials3
M S & E 760 Molecular Modeling of Materials3
M S & E 803 Special Topics in Materials Science1-3
B M E/​PHM SCI  430 Biological Interactions with Materials3
B M E/​M E  615 Tissue Mechanics3
BIOCHEM/​CHEM  704 Chemical Biology3
CBE 540 Polymer Science and Technology3
CBE 747 Advanced Colloid and Interface Science3
CHEM 652 Chemistry of Inorganic Materials3
CHEM 653 Chemistry of Nanoscale Materials3
CHEM 654 Materials Chemistry of Polymers2-3
CHEM 664 Physical Chemistry of Macromolecules2-3
CHEM 721 Instrumental Analysis3-4
E C E 745 Solid State Electronics3
GEOSCI 765 Crystal Chemistry3
PHYSICS 415 Thermal Physics3
PHYSICS 551 Solid State Physics3
PHYSICS 715 Statistical Mechanics3
PHYSICS 751 Advanced Solid State Physics3

M.S. and Ph.D. Program, Admissions Inquiries

Don Stone, Associate Chair of Graduate Studies

View the Graduate Guide for program-specific information on admission, coursework, policies, rules and regulations.

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