Why I Chose Materials Science

Aug 16 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Ultimately, I probably ended up majoring in MSE because of noise induced hearing loss.

To back up a bit, my first instrument was the flute. As a fairly good flautist, I was occasionally asked to play piccolo. The problem with piccolos is that they are very high, very loud, and about four inches from your right ear. If you practice diligently, you spend a lot of time with it very close to your ear. So when I started noticing that I only heard fire alarms in my left ear, I realized I should probably quit the piccolo, and took up french horn instead.

My parents were less than thrilled about buying me another instrument, so we compromised, and I got a budget that was the difference between my sister's violin and my flute. This was not a large number, so being part of the internet generation, to eBay I went. The horn I ended up getting was a cheaper Chinese knock-off, but it had a lovely tone quality, even it has other... quirks.

However, about one year after I had started playing it, I noticed that it was already developing the cursed "red rot". This process is more scientifically known as dezincification, wherein the zinc in the brass alloy is electrochemically oxidized and leaches out of the metal as a white powder, leaving behind a porous copper matrix. However, being a corrosion process, this usually takes rather longer than one year. So why had it happened so quickly?

The answer is that the inside of the slides had been silver-coated with the rest of the horn, which meant I had brass against silver, and when condensation completed the circuit, a galvanic cell was created. And somewhere in the process of looking all of this up, I discovered there was a field called materials science, which did everything I thought chemical engineers did. Apparently, a lot of chemical engineering involves calculating flow through pipes. I was much more interested in metallurgy than pipe flow, and so I started looking for schools with materials science programs. And I haven't regretted it yet.


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