MSc(Eng) Polymers and Polymer Composite Science and Engineering

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 chemistry, physics or related engineering subject from an approved institution
  • 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)

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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.

Core Modules

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 weights and molecular weight distributions, chemical reactions on polymers, and polymer degradation and stability. The lectures in this unit will provide the basic framework for the teaching, but learning will be strongly reinforced and supported through the provision of the problem-solving workshops, independent learning and literature based tasks.

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.

This industrially relevant course provides an understanding of the capabilities and limits of solid state modelling of metals. Students use commercially available packages to predict materials related problems.

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.

Polymer Fibre Composite Materials

This course starts with an introduction to the different types of composite that exist in nature (e.g., bone, wood and shells) or are man-made (e.g., fibre or particulate reinforced composites; metal-matrix, ceramic-matrix or polymer-matrix composites). The course then moves on to discuss the reinforcing theories and examines the strengths and weaknesses of composite materials. Its aim is to acquaint students with the constituents of composite materials, and to their modes of failure. Matrix materials including thermoplastic and thermosetting polymers will be discussed in terms of their chemistry and physical properties. Reinforcement types including fibres (e.g., carbon, glass and polymers) and particulate/nanoscale reinforcements (e.g., clay and graphene) will also be discussed in detail. Finally, the failure modes of composites under impact and fatigue loading will be examined from a micromechanical view point and then globally as final component failure occurs.

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

  • Understand the different types of matrix material that can be used, and be able to select the most appropriate type for a given application;
  • Understand the different types of reinforcement that are available, commenting on their performance and selecting appropriate reinforcements for given tasks;
  • Understand the different modes of failure in composite materials with the ability to comment on the order in which they generally occur, and how they ultimately link to cause component failure;
  • Understand the different types of composite including both natural and man-made composite materials;
  • Understand and undertake calculations on the statistics of fibre strength and the micromechanics of fibre composites;
  • Understand the angular dependence of strength in aligned fibre reinforced materials, and an appreciation of how this influences the design of composite structures.

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
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.

Dr Xiangbing Zeng

Course Director and Senior Lecturer in Polymers and Liquid Crystals

Contact Dr Xiangbing Zeng

Dr Joel Foreman

Dr Joel ForemanLecturer in Polymers and Polymer Composites

- Staff profile
Composite Systems Innovation Centre

Contact Dr Joel Foreman

Dr Simon Hayes

Dr Simon HayesLecturer in Aerospace Engineering

- Staff profile
Composite Systems Innovation Centre

Contact Dr Simon Hayes

Employability

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 individual lecture courses and modules is continually reviewed and updated.