Major Curriculum

The MSE Major Curriculum is comprised of Core Courses, MSE Laboratory, Research, and Design Courses, and Technical Electives.

MSE Core Courses

MSE Core Courses are designed to provide a detailed introduction to the basic concepts of Materials Science and Engineering. The principles learned in these classes apply to all types of materials and to all kinds of engineering materials problems. These courses are:

  • MSE 2610 "Mechanical Properties of Engineering Materials: From Nanodevices to Superstructures" OR
  • MSE 2620 "Electronic Materials for the Information Age"

Note: Whichever of 2610 & 2620 is not taken to satisfy affiliation requirements is taken as an MSE Core Course.

  • MSE 2060 "Atomic and Molecular Structure of Matter"
  • MSE 3010 "Chemistry of Materials"
  • MSE 3030 "Thermodynamics of Condensed Systems"
  • MSE 3040 "Kinetics, Diffusion, and Phase Transformation"
  • MSE 3050 "Electronic, Magnetic and Dielectric Properties of Materials"
  • MSE 4020 "Mechanical Properties of Materials; Processing and Design"

MSE Laboratory, Research, and Design Courses

Hands-on experience and design are important parts of an engineering education. Most sophomore courses in MSE have a laboratory component (2610, 2620, & 2060). All juniors take laboratory courses (3110 and 3120) that complement the junior level core courses (3010-3050) as well as courses in technical and professional skills (ENGRC 3111) and design (3070). Seniors may decide between an intensive one semester senior laboratory course (4030 offered in fall term only) or a two semester senior thesis project (4050/4060).  The senior thesis involves research sponsored by a faculty member and culminating in a final thesis manuscript.  

Seniors must also take a design course either in the fall (5070/4 credits) or spring (4070/3 credits).  The fall version (5070) incorporates multidisciplinary project teams in more realistic engineering design.   In addition, many MSE undergraduates participate in faculty research projects for academic credit (x900, x910/x920; x of 2, 3 and 4 stands for sophomore, junior and senior years, respectively). One semester of research involvement (MSE 2910, 2920, 3910, 3920, 4910 or 4920) may be used as an application elective. Other research involvement courses (MSE 1920, MSE 2900, 3900, 4900, and non-MSE) may be used as advisor approved electives only.

Technical Electives

In order to ensure sufficient breadth and depth, the MSE curriculum requires that students take two materials electives and three materials applications electives, as well as an upper level Technical Elective. One of these courses, or one of the advisor approved electives from the Engineering Distribution, must satisfy the advanced mathematics/computation/modeling requirement. Students with a GPA above 3.5 at the end of the junior year may take additional elective courses to satisfy Honors Program requirements. In choosing electives, students are encouraged to discuss their plans and objectives with their faculty advisor.

Materials Electives

The Materials Electives are intended to provide depth of knowledge in at least two different classes of materials. The Materials Electives are:

  • MSE 4100 "Physical Metallurgy and Applications" (offered biannually, most recent offer: 2018 Fall)
  • MSE 4610 "Biomedical Materials and Their Applications" (offered annually)
  • MSE 5210 "Properties of Solid Polymers" (offered annually)
  • MSE 5310 "Introduction to Ceramics" (offered biannually, most recent offer: 2019 Spring)
  • MSE 5320 "Glass: Structure, Properties and Modern Applications" (offered annually)
  • MSE 5430 "Thin Film Materials Science" (offered biannually, most recent offer: 2017 Fall)
  • MSE 5550 "Introduction to Composites" (offered sporadically, most recent offer: 2015 Spring)

No other courses may be substituted for the Materials Electives.  Courses with cross-listed headers other than MSE are completely acceptable to be listed on the Graduation Checklist under Materials Electives and Materials Applications Electives;  remember to list all headers for each cross-listed course.  A Materials Elective can be counted as a Materials Applications Elective without petition.

Materials Applications Elective

The Materials Applications Electives are divided into five categories. These categories reflect the strategic areas that the MSE Major has identified as being important in the future. Looking ahead, materials will be used more and more in integrated systems where many kinds of dissimilar materials will be combined in new and interesting ways. Thus, the MSE curriculum reflects a systems approach. Four technological areas have been identified where materials are expected to be the deciding factor in determining whether and how well that technology may succeed, and where a tremendous benefit to society may be expected if it does succeed. A fifth area covers courses that are strategic for students pursuing advanced degrees (PhD). These courses are designed to provide students with an understanding of the context in which the development and implementation of new technologies takes place.  A list of materials Applications Electives categories and courses that have been approved in each category can be found on the MSE Electives page.

Students are required to take Materials Applications courses from at least two different categories. One of these must be an MSE course and two must be taken from other departments (non-MSE number).  Note that many courses are cross-listed with multiple departments; students should be sure to enroll in the appropriate version of the course.  Courses with cross-listed headers other than MSE are completely acceptable to be listed on the Graduation Checklist under Materials Electives and Materials Applications Electives;  remember to list all headers for each cross-listed course.

This list is not exhaustive and there are numerous other courses at Cornell that focus on materials applications. Students are encouraged to petition to accept other courses as materials application electives.  These petitions should be submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies and should include the category in which the proposed course should be counted, a brief explanation or why it is appropriate for a materials science major, and copies the catalog description and syllabus if available.  All Materials Electives can be used as Materials Applications Electives without petition.

Outside Technical Elective

An Outside Technical Elective can be any advanced (2000 level or above) technical (engineering or physical science) course that fits into the student's educational objectives.

Advanced Math Requirements

At least one elective course (Approved Elective, Engineering Distribution, Materials Application Elective, or Outside Technical Elective) must meet the advanced mathematics or mathematical/computational modeling requirement.

Courses meeting this requirement will normally be at the 3000 level or above (with some 2000 level exceptions) and include a significant amount of advanced mathematics or mathematical/computational modeling beyond that required for MATH 2930 or 2940 (having 2930/2940 as prerequisites is common).   The Requirement on Advanced Math/Computational Modeling has been set to push the horizons of students beyond the basic four math courses in the first two years.  There is an enormous body of math beyond 2930 and 2940 including, for example, (i) statistics, (ii) complex variables, (iii) discrete math, (iv) number theory, (v) Fourier and related transforms spaces, (vi) Hilbert spaces, (vii) advanced programming languages, (viii) numerical analysis, (ix) finite element simulations and (x) simulation algorithms. 

The updated list of courses as of Spring 2018 that satisfy the MSE Advanced Math/Computational Modeling requirements can be found on the MSE Advanced Math page.

MS&E Grade Requirements

Affiliated students must continue to meet college requirements for good standing.  In addition, to obtain an undergraduate degree in Materials Science and Engineering, students must meet the MSE conditions for academic good standing.  Those conditions are as follows:

  • Semester GPA >2.0
  • Cumulative GPA > 2.3
  • At most, one grade as low as C- in the MSE required courses, materials electives, materials applications electives, and the outside technical elective.

Honors Thesis

Exemplary MSE students may graduate with Distinction and/or Honors by fulfilling a number of objectives. 

In order to be eligible to participate in this Major’s Honors Program, students must meet the Major Honors Programs criteria:

  • At least 9 credits above the minimum required for graduation in Materials Science and Engineering, so that the minimum number of credits for an honors degree is 139. The additional courses must be technical in nature, i.e. in engineering, mathematics, chemistry, and physics, at the 4000 and graduate levels, with selected courses at the 3000 level, which must be approved by the Major advisor.
  • Write a senior honors thesis (8 credits) and receive at least a grade of A- for both semesters.


 Candidates are required to send e-mail to with the subject line "Honors Candidate".  The deadline for receipt of messages requesting honors is October 15 for May and August candidates and March 15 for January candidates, during or prior to senior year.


 A faculty advisor must supervise each student's senior thesis project.  Written approval by the faculty member who will direct this research is required.