Overview - Metallurgical and Materials Engineering - Montana Tech

Metallurgical and Materials Engineering


Metallurgical & Materials Engineering encompasses three inter-related engineering disciplines: mineral processing, extractive (or process) metallurgy, and materials science and engineering. While remaining true to its School of Mines heritage, the program curriculum features a strong core of fundamental engineering, process, and materials courses in addition to fulfilling Montana Tech’s general education requirements. The program strives to keep pace with industrial and societal needs by offering a relevant selection of elective courses in each discipline. Students choose to follow one of two tracks: mineral and metallurgical processing or materials engineering. In either track, students are able to align their curriculum to satisfy their personal career objectives through judicious selection of their technical electives.


As one of the oldest programs at Montana Tech, the Metallurgical & Materials Engineering (M&ME) program continues to fulfill the historical mission of The School of Mines and Engineering as well as the needs and interests of mineral- and metal-related industries while simultaneously addressing those of the materials industries in order to provide a broad and quality education with an appropriate blend of theory and practice so students can successfully and confidently enter into a career and contribute to the profession and society.


Metallurgical & Materials Engineering is an exceptionally broad field that encompasses five disciplines. With:

  • Mineral Processing is the initial step in extractive metallurgy. Engineers engaged in mineral processing employ various physical and chemical methods to separate, extract, and concentrate valuable minerals contained in the earth’s crust. Each orebody presents unique challenges and processing problems that mineral process engineer solves by adapting existing technologies and/or developing innovate new technologies. Mineral processing is by no means restricted to the metal-bearing minerals industry; mineral processing engineers are also employed by the industrial minerals sector and many recycling and environmental remediation techniques are based on mineral processing technologies.
  • Extractive Metallurgy comprises an extensive range of technologies. Metallurgical process engineers apply their skill and expertise in the areas of thermal processing (pyrometallurgy), aqueous processing (hydrometallurgy), and electrolytic processing (electrometallurgy) to recover and refine metals and other valuable products from mineral concentrates, scrap, and other materials. In this respect, the metallurgical engineering discipline is similar to that of chemical engineering; a primary difference is that metallurgical engineers are most frequently concerned with inorganic materials whereas chemical engineers typically deal with organic materials such as petrochemicals and biological materials.
  • Physical Metallurgy, the engineer processes the metals into products by, for example, alloying, forging, welding, casting, and powdering to control chemical, physical and mechanical properties such as corrosion resistance, strength and ductility;
  • Materials Engineering applies principles similar to the above-described for applications that involve ceramics, glasses, polymers, and composite materials in addition to metals. Materials engineers apply their knowledge of the structure and properties of these various materials to the development and utilization of new advanced materials for applications. The curriculum is particularly strong in the arena of physical metallurgy, in which the student learns to process metals into products by alloying, forging, welding, casting, and powdering.
  • Materials Processing, the engineer applies similar principles as the above to develop the best materials for applications involving ceramics, glasses, composites, and polymers as well as certain minerals and  metals; and

Together, these disciplines are nicknamed the chemical and process engineering of minerals, metals and materials. Courses in each discipline are offered and, in this manner, the program retains its School of Mines heritage but has evolved to include the five disciplines to keep pace with the changing needs of industry and society. This ultimately has increased the breadth of the program and allowed course contents and research efforts to include environmental remediation, sustainable industrial processing development, recycling, maintenance engineering, forensics, biomaterials, corrosion, nanotechnology, and aerospace materials development, to name a few.


The M&ME Department will attract and retain the highest quality engineering students in order to provide resource-based industries with minerals, metals and materials process engineers while maintaining the heritage of Montana Tech. The department will sustain coveted programs with broad, hands-on learning experiences, supported by industry, in order to research and provide solutions for the future needs of society. Graduates of the program will be contributing members of the community, have a passion for excellence, and be recognized among the world’s most versatile engineers.


When U.S. President Grover Cleveland signed the Enabling Act of 1889, Montana became the 41st State of the Union. As part of this Act, a land grant of 100,000 acres was allotted for The Montana School of Mines (MSM). In 1893, The Montana Legislature established the Montana University System (MUS) and, in 1895, created The State School of Mines Commission to prepare and specify plans for its construction.


Construction began in 1896 on what is currently Main Hall, and in 1900, the College enrolled its first students. Initially the MSM granted two degrees, one in Electrical Engineering and the other called an Engineer of Mines which had numerous Courses of Study allowing students to specialize in Mining, Chemistry and Metallurgy, and Geology. The inaugural graduating class commenced in 1903 and the first graduate to be placed was Louis Bender who accepted a smelter position at the Anaconda Reduction Works. However, it wasn’t until 1922 that the MSM began offering a separate Metallurgical Engineering degree that focused on mineral processing and extractive metallurgy. This focus remains intact today; however, in the early 1960’s, the program was broadened to involve materials engineering and thereby include physical metallurgy and materials processing, particularly ceramics. Although changes to the degree offerings have since been incurred to meet the changing needs of industry, the program has retained this broad base. In 2000, the present name of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering (M&ME) was adopted. Undoubtedly, the program will continue to change, but it will always honor its heritage thereby helping fulfill Montana Tech's mission. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Anaconda Reduction Works is now home to world-famous "Old Works" Golf Course. Also, one of many fundraising accounts is named after Louis Bender, who coincidentally was an avid golfer! This account allows the M&ME Department to bring in industrial representatives for seminars and guest lectures. Other M&ME accounts in the Montana Tech Foundation also aid in student education including, but not limited to, scholarships, undergraduate research support, laboratory equipment acquisitions, and library book purchases, all in support of M&ME Student Excellence Program.