The Institute of Materials Science and Engineering (IMSE) at Washington University in St. Louis offers a truly interdisciplinary PhD in Materials Science & Engineering. Materials Science & Engineering is the interdisciplinary field focused on the development and application of new materials with desirable properties and microstructures. Disciplines in the physical sciences (chemistry, physics, etc.) and engineering fields (mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, etc.) frequently play a central role in developing the fundamental knowledge that is needed for materials studies. The discipline of Materials Science & Engineering integrates this knowledge and uses it to design and develop new materials and to match these with appropriate technological needs.

The IMSE  is well positioned to address the needs of a student seeking a truly interdisciplinary experience. Established in 2013, the IMSE brings together more than 30 research groups in Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and the Medical School. The IMSE works to integrate and expand the existing materials interests at Washington University by establishing and overseeing shared research and instrument facilities, creating partnerships with industry and national facilities, and setting up outreach activities.  

Current focused areas of research and advanced graduate education within the IMSE include:

Plasmonics, Photonics, and Materials for Sensors and Imaging

Computational Materials Science

Energy Harvesting and Storage

Structure, Properties, and Phase Transformations of Complex Materials

Environmental Technologies and Sustainability

Contact:Beth Gartin

Interdisciplinary PhD in Materials Science & Engineering

To earn a PhD degree, students must complete the Graduate School requirements, along with specific program requirements. Course work includes: 

  • Four IMSE Core Courses (12 academic credits)
MEMS 5601Mechanical Behavior of Materials3
MEMS 5608Introduction to Polymer Science and Engineering3
MEMS 5610Quantitative Materials Science and Engineering3
Physics 537Thermodynamics & Kinetics of Materials3
Total units12
  • Solid State Chemistry or Physics (3 academic credits)
Chem 465Solid-State and Materials Chemistry3
or Physics 472 Solid State Physics
  • IMSE 500 First-Year Research Rotation (3 academic credits)
  • IMSE 501 Seminar (1 academic credit; 2 required, 3 allowed for credit)
  • Three courses (9 credits) from a preapproved list of Materials Science & Engineering electives
  • Additional electives from participating departments to reach 36 academic credits (~9 academic credits, ~3 courses)
  • A maximum of 12 credits of 400-level courses may be applied to the required 36 academic credits

Students must maintain an average grade of B (GPA 3.0) for all 72 credits. Additionally, the required courses must be completed with no more than one grade below a B-. Up to 24 graduate credits may be transferred with the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee, chaired by the Associate Director of the IMSE.

In addition to fulfilling the course and research credit requirements, the student must:

  • Complete a Research Rotation
  • Identify an IMSE faculty member willing and able to support the student's thesis research on a materials-related topic
  • Fulfill the Teaching Requirement
    • Attend 2+ Teaching Center Workshops
    • 15 units of teaching experience (basic and advanced levels)
  • Successfully complete the Qualifying Examination (oral and written)
  • Maintain satisfactory research progress, as determined by the student's thesis adviser and mentoring committee
  • Successfully complete the Thesis Proposal and Presentation
  • Successfully complete and defend a dissertation

Failure to meet these requirements will result in dismissal from the program.

Course Plan

Year 1

Fall Semester (13 credits) 

  • Solid-State and Materials Chemistry (Chem 465) or elective
  • Quantitative Materials Science and Engineering (MEMS 5610) 
  • Mechanical Behavior of Materials (MEMS 5601)  
  • Elective
  • IMSE Seminar

Spring Semester (13 credits) 

  • Thermodynamics & Kinetics of Materials (Physics 537) 
  • Introduction to Polymer Science and Engineering (MEMS 5608) 
  • Solid State Physics (Physics 472) or elective
  • IMSE First-Year Research Rotation 
  • IMSE Seminar Series


  • Begin thesis research
  • Prepare for Quailfying Exam (August)
    • Written document and oral presentation on research rotation
    • Oral exam on fundamentals from core courses

Years 2 and beyond

  • 3 electives (discuss with PhD adviser)
  • IMSE Seminar (once more for credit)
  • IMSE PhD Research
  • Teaching Requirement
    • Attend 2+ Teaching Center Workshops
    • 15 units of teaching experience (basic and advanced levels)
  • Annual (or more frequent) meetings with Faculty Mentoring Committee
  • Thesis proposal and presentation (fifth semester)
  • Dissertation and oral defense