MSc(Eng) Polymers and Composites

Extruded polymersPolymers and polymer composites are increasingly important in our everyday life and can be found everywhere around us. They range from commonplace such as polypropylene (left) or fibreglass to high performance such as PEEK or carbon fibre.

Recent advances include biodegradable plastics, 3D printing, plastic electronics, myriad aerospace applications and many more. Polymer nanocomposites (such as those based on graphene) are being developed for use in areas such as drug delivery and tissue engineering.

Course breakdown

  • Duration: 1 year full time
  • Fees: It's important to find out how much the fees are for your course and get advice on funding your studies. We recommend using the University's fee lookup tool
  • Entry requirements: a good honours degree in materials, a physical science (chemistry or physics) or a related engineering subject. Some background in polymers or composites is desired. For equivalent qualifications in your country, click here.
  • English language requirements: overall IELTS grade of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent
  • Fully accredited by the IoM3upon graduating, you will have the underpinning knowledge for later professional registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng)
  • Study locations: Sheffield campus.
  • Our campus and how we use it: We timetable teaching across the whole of our campus, the details of which can be found on our campus map. Teaching may take place in a student’s home department, but may also be timetabled to take place within other departments or central teaching space.

Once you've made your decision and are ready to apply, follow our step by step guide. Apply now

Course structure

Bringing together expertise from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Chemistry, and further supported by the Polymer Centre, the UK’s largest single-university academic network in the field of polymers, this course will provide you with a thorough understanding of advanced topics on polymer and composite science and engineering; synthesis, characterisation, processing, materials selection, product design and testing.


Fundamental Polymer Chemistry

This unit covers the fundamentals of polymer structure, polymer synthesis and the chemical behaviours of polymers, both natural and synthetic. Topics covered include polymer microstructure, chain-reaction and step-reaction routes to polymers, living polymerizations, copolymerization, molecular weight distributions, chemical reactions on polymers, and polymer degradation and stability.

Polymer Characterisation and Analysis

A core module covering major instrumental methods for identifying polymers and determining polymer molecular weight, molecular weight distribution, stereochemistry, sequence distribution in copolymers, transition temperatures, surface features, etc. The unit includes examples of the use of chemical analysis, colligative properties, chromatographic techniques, nuclear magnetic resonance, vibrational and electronic spectroscopy, microscopy, X-ray and scattering techniques, surface analysis and thermal and dynamic mechanical methods. The problems, mini-essays, literature-based tasks and questions set for workshops will cover all aspects of the unit helping to ensure that all learning outcomes are realised.

Polymer Laboratory

This unit covers the fundamentals of practical polymer construction and analysis. Topics covered include polymer synthesis via a number of methods (including chain-reaction and step-reaction routes). A range of analytical techniques will also be introduced; these will include size exclusion chromatography, viscosity analysis, and spectroscopy (IR and NMR). Experiments involving the modification and application of polymers will also be studied. The aim of this laboratory course is to ensure that students will gain personal transferable skills that will be relevant to future employment situations (the course has been designed for those intending to work in polymer science).

In addition, the course will provide the necessary background skills that will enable the students to begin their research projects in polymer science. The module will be taught through laboratory classes following an introductory lecture used to introduce the experiments, as well as outline organizational and safety issues used in the laboratory. Assessment of this module is continuous and is primarily based upon the quality of results obtained in the laboratory and answers to short questions (provided on question sheets accompanying each practical exercise, and contributing around 20% of the total assessment). The answers to these questions are submitted with full laboratory reports, which detail the background to the experiment along with results, discussion and conclusions.

The Physics of Polymers

The aim of the course is to introduce the general properties of thermoplastics: their molecular structures, their physical and mechanical properties, and how these properties can be modified by means e.g. of chemistry, additives and processing condition for engineering applications. The unit also introduces the fundamentals of amorphous polymer solids and their behaviour under deformation. Topics covered include conformations of polymer chains, rubber elasticity, viscoelasticity, time-temperature superposition, glass-transition, yield, craze etc. After this module the students are expected to understand the mechanical properties of typical polymers, as well as their dependence on temperature, time scale, and molecular structures.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate the relationship between chemical structure, molecular organisation, microstructure and physical properties of polymers in the solid state;
  • Draw parallels between synthetic polymers and biopolymers;
  • Indicate the different methods of microstructural investigation;
  • Demonstrate basic knowledge and understanding of polymer solids and their mechanical properties, ranging from those of individual polymer chains through to materials based upon macroscopic assemblies of such chains.

Polymer Materials Science and Engineering

The aim of the course is to demonstrate the relationship between chemical structure, molecular organisation, microstructure and physical properties of polymers in the solid state, to draw parallels between synthetic polymers and biopolymers, to introduce the types of high-strength high-modulus polymers, their processing, properties and application, and to introduce liquid crystals and LC polymers.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate the relationship between chemical structure, molecular organisation, microstructure and physical properties of polymers in the solid state, indicate the different methods of microstructural investigation;
  • Explain the problems and solutions in obtaining high modulus / high strength polymers and fibres, and introduce liquid crystals and liquid crystal polymers and their optical properties and applications.

Design and Manufacture of Composites

This module is designed to provide students with an understanding of both the design and manufacture of composite materials and is presented in two sections. In the design of composites section, classical laminate theory is introduced followed by both hand and computer based calculations to design effective composite materials. In the manufacturing of composites section, the materials and manufacturing techniques are described, along with important practical issues such as repair, defects, testing and SMART materials.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Understand and implement classical laminate theory to design simple composite components for a specific end user requirement;
  • Use a modern laminate design computer package (ESAComp) to create and test more complicated composite components;
  • Select appropriate reinforcements and matrices for a given application;
  • Select appropriate composite manufacturing techniques for a given application and describe each process in detail including advantages and disadvantages;
  • Understand how issues such as manufacturing defects, machining, joining and repairing affect the properties of composite materials;
  • Understand testing of composites, including both destructive and non-destructive testing methods.

Polymer Processing

This module provides the students with a detailed description of advanced polymer processing as applied to modern industrial applications. The fundamental concepts behind polymer melt dynamics and solidification will be explored and will provide the theoretical basis for the forming processes. The manufacturing processes themselves will be described giving the students the ability to choose between them allowing informed decisions regarding commercial applications. The use of real world case studies and reverse engineering examples in dedicated problem classes will provide the students with practical experience otherwise difficult to impart.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate how the following topics underpin the processing of polymers:
    • phase transitions
    • polymer rheology
    • melting, pumping and mixing
    • solidification and shape stabilisation
  • Apply these scientific principles to real world manufacturing of plastic products through the following techniques:
    • compounding
    • extrusion
    • injection moulding
    • blow moulding
    • thermoforming
    • rotational moulding
    • compression moulding
    • additive manufacturing
  • Discriminate between the different processing techniques/polymers and suggest the most appropriate manufacturing approach for a specific part based on provided design criteria.
  • Apply the concepts learned to reverse engineer a provided plastic artefact and then recommend appropriate materials and processing techniques to demonstrate understanding.

Composite Materials and Micromechanics

This course is split into two halves, the first half deals with composite materials, the second half deals with composite micromechanics. The composite materials part of the course starts with an introduction to composite materials, what are composites, why are composites used and the distinction between man-made and natural composites.

This is followed by looking at the different types of composites available. Next, the individual fibres are discussed (glass, carbon, polymeric) and the available matrices (thermoplastic, thermosetting). Manufacturing of composites is dealt with followed by a look at fibre architectures, failure mechanisms, impact failure and toughening.

The composite micromechanics part of the course describes multiple methods to predict the properties of composite materials, beginning with a look at fibre failure statistics using the Weibull method. This is followed by a treatment of classical laminate theory from a laminate compliance perspective and how to predict the properties of short fibre composites using shear lag theory. Finally, the strength of composites and composite fatigue are investigated.

Research Project

Research project

A significant part of the course is devoted to a personalised research project with a supervisor of your choice. Recent projects include:

  • Preparation, structure and properties of polymer-graphene nanocomposites
  • Tough polymer nanocomposite hydrogels
  • Synthesis and characterisation of injectable hydrogels for soft tissue reconstruction
  • Functionalisation of carbon surfaces by plasma treatment
  • Surface conductivity of polymers by plasma treatment
  • Sustainable, biodegradable polymers: the future of plastics
  • Tailoring the natural toughness in epoxy resins
  • Developing new particulate reinforced composites
  • Cure monitoring of carbon-fibre composites using their electrical resistance
  • Artificial shell structures using clay platelets and an organic binder
  • Electric cure of composite structures
  • Multi-colour tilings by self-assembly of x-shaped molecules
  • Spontaneous formation of chirality from achiral liquid crystalline and polymeric compounds

Polymer materials

How you'll learn

With our research-led teaching, you will learn through lectures, tutorials, laboratory classes and project work.

You'll have access to our state-of-the-art facilities and equipment including:

  • Polymer and polymer composite processing laboratory
  • Twin screw extruder for making thermoplastic polymer blends and particulate composites
  • Injection moulder and hot press for sample manufacture
  • Wet resin processing facility for processing thermosets from monomers into test samples
  • Autoclave for high pressure curing of composites, electric cure of composites and an impact and self-sensing facility
  • Purpose-designed laboratories for synthesis and characterisation of polymers, nanoparticles and polymer nanocomposites

You’ll be assessed by formal examinations, coursework assignments and a dissertation.

Click here for additional information.

What our students say

Polymers student Li Liu cutting materialI chose Sheffield because it is a world-renowned, beautiful, university. I find polymers and materials science really interesting and the course provides me with a lot of professional knowledge and experience for research.

Li LIU / China

Polymers student in the laboratoryThis course has given me the chance to gain new experiences, meet new friends, get to know a new culture, improve my English and experience a new environment, all which has helped me to grow professionally.

Smithcha Kanjanawattana / thailand

Academic support

Our network of world leading academics, at the cutting edge of their research, inform our courses providing a stimulating, dynamic environment in which to study.  You'll receive support throughout your course, plus a dedicated Supervisor for your research project.

If you have any questions about the course, please contact Postgraduate Taught Courses Team.

Dr Xiangbing Zeng

Course Director and Reader in Polymers and Liquid Crystals

Contact Dr Xiangbing Zeng

Dr Joel Foreman

Dr Joel ForemanLecturer in Polymers and Polymer Composites

- Staff profile

Contact Dr Joel Foreman

Dr Simon Hayes

Dr Simon HayesLecturer in Aerospace Engineering

- Staff profile

Contact Dr Simon Hayes

Dr Chris Holland

Dr Chris HollandSenior Lecturer in Natural Materials

Staff profile

Contact Dr Chris Holland


You will receive training in professional research methods and acquire skills of direct use to a range of employers in industry as well as for PhD research opportunities across the Polymer Centre.

Our graduates are working in such roles as:

  • Senior Engineer at 3M Group
  • Global Category Manager at Akzo Nobel
  • PhD research student at Swinburne University
  • Chemical Regulatory Specialist at Chemical and Regulatory Service
  • Senior Researcher at Unilever

Jasmin WongTake a look at where our alumni are now working.

Meet our alumni

*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers.In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.