BSc Materials Science and Engineering

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Microstructures of Materials

Course unit fact file
Unit code MATS15301
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Materials
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit introduces the concept of a microstructure in materials science. The importance of microstructure in determining material properties is introduced.


  • Introduce the concept of a microstructure with examples from metallic, ceramic, polymeric, composite, and natural (biological) materials.
  • Provide the skills to investigate and interpret common microstructural features in the above classes of materials using optical microscopy.
  • Introduce the relationships between microstructure and phase equilibria (phase diagrams) for simple systems.
  • Introduce the mechanisms that control evolution of microstructure during processing and the effect of process variables.


Learning outcomes

A greater depth of the learning outcomes will be covered in the following sections:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Intellectual skills
  • Practical skills
  • Transferable skills and personal qualities




Teaching and learning methods

Lectures; Tutorials and virtual lab
There will be weekly formative online quiz.  The assessed coursework includes question sheets and individual lab report exercise.


Knowledge and understanding

a. Understand the concept of a microstructure and its importance in determining material properties. 
b. Understand the hierarchy of microstructural features in materials. 
c. Define important microstructural concepts such as grains, second phase precipitates, spherulites etc. 
d. Know the value and limitations of phase diagrams in predicting and interpreting microstructures. 
e. Understand qualitatively the mechanisms of nucleation, growth, and diffusion and their relationship to microstructure. 
f. Understand how processing can be used to manipulate microstructures.

Intellectual skills

a. Apply a phase diagram to determine the likely microstructure present in a range of important material systems. 
b. Apply the Lever Rule to predict equilibrium phase fractions in a binary system. 
c. Relate observed microstructures to the underlying mechanisms of nucleation, growth and diffusion controlling their evolution. 
d. Recognise typical microstructural features in important engineering and biological materials, including simple steels and semi-crystalline polymers.

Practical skills

a. Analyse cooling curves and construct phase diagram using thermal analysis data.
b. Examine micrographs of example materials obtained by using transmission or reflected light microscopy.
c. Identify and characterize key microstructural features from the examining of micrographs.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

a. Familiarization with the use of an optical microscope. 
b. Ability to render accurate sketches from observations using microscopy. 
c. Ability to relate theory to its practical consequences in the properties of materials. 
d. Ability to perform a laboratory as part of a team and work effectively together.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 70%
Written assignment (inc essay) 30%

Feedback methods

Feedback given verbal + written

Recommended reading

“An Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering” W. Calister., 2009.  
“Phase Transformations in Metals and Alloys” D. Porter and K. Easterling, 1996.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Xiaorong Zhou Unit coordinator

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