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If you're interested in ceramics engineering, it's a good idea to take on special research assignments from teachers who can provide guidance on topics and methods. There are also summer academic programs where students with similar interests can spend a week or more in a special environment. Alfred University in New York, for example, offers programs that allow you to explore both engineering in general and the work of a ceramics engineer in particular. Visit https://www.alfred.edu/about/community/summer-camps/residential-camps/academic-camps/ceramic-glass-engineering.cfm for more information. You can find more summer engineering programs at http://www.engineeringedu.com/store/index.php?route=information/information&information_id=8. It's also a good idea to join science clubs that provide you with the opportunity to compete in academic events and explore engineering and science fields.
For hands-on experience with materials, take pottery or sculpture classes; this will allow you to become familiar with materials such as clay and glass. You can learn how the materials are obtained and how to shape and fire them. This will give you an opportunity to learn firsthand about stress and strain, tension and compression, heat resistance, and ideal production equipment. In pottery classes, you can also learn about glazes and how various chemicals affect different materials.
You should also check out the American Society for Engineering Education’s precollege Web site, http://egfi-k12.org, for general information about careers in engineering, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about engineering. In addition, the society offers Engineering, Go For It!, a comprehensive brochure about careers at http://students.egfi-k12.org/eGFI-Engineering-Go-For-It-Magazine.pdf.
Like other materials engineers, ceramics engineers work toward the development of new products. They use their scientific knowledge to anticipate new applications for existing products.
Ceramics research engineers conduct experiments and perform other research. They study the chemical properties (such as sodium content) and physical properties (such as strength) of materials as they develop the ideal mix of elements for each product's application. Many research engineers are fascinated by the chemical, optical, and thermal interactions of the oxides that make up many ceramic materials.
Ceramics design engineers take the information collected by the researchers and further develop products to be manufactured. In addition to working on the new products, these engineers may need to design new equipment or processes for manufacturing. Examples of such equipment include grinders, milling machines, sieves, presses, and drying machines.
Ceramics test engineers test sample products, or they might be involved in ordering raw materials and making sure the quality meets the industry standards. Other ceramics engineers are involved in more hands-on work, such as grinding raw materials and firing products. Maintaining proper color, surface finish, texture, strength, and uniformity are additional tasks of the ceramics engineer.
Beyond research, design, testing, and manufacturing, there are ceramics product sales engineers. The industry depends on these people to anticipate customers' needs and report back to researchers and test engineers on new applications.
Ceramics engineers often specialize in an area that is associated with selected products. For example, a ceramics engineer working in the area of glass may be involved in the production of sheet or window glass, bottles, fiberglass, tableware, fiber optics, or electronic equipment parts (such as glass for LCD flat-panel displays). Another engineer may specialize in whitewares, which involves production of pottery, china, wall tile, plumbing fixtures, electrical insulators, and spark plugs. In addition, specific ceramics engineers specialize in the manufacture of other ceramic materials and goods such as brick, glassware, turbines, rotors, and containers for hazardous waste.
Other segments of the industry—advanced, or technical, ceramic—employ a great number of specialized engineers. Workers may focus on engineered ceramics (for things such as engine components, cutting tools, and military body armor), bioceramics (for products such as artificial teeth, bones, and joints), and electronic and magnetic ceramics (for products such as computer chips and memory disks).