Structure of Materials

Course 1 of 4: xMinor in Materials for Electronic, Optical, and Magnetic Devices 16 weeks total 6 - 8 hours per week

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About this course

Structure determines so much about a material: its properties, its potential applications, and its performance within those applications. This course from MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering explores the structure of a wide variety of materials with current-day engineering applications.

The course begins with an introduction to amorphous materials. We explore glasses and polymers, learn about the factors that influence their structure, and learn how materials scientists measure and describe the structure of these materials.

Then we begin a discussion of the crystalline state, exploring what it means for a material to be crystalline, how we describe directions in a crystal, and how we can determine the structure of crystal through x-ray diffraction. We explore the underlying crystalline structures that underpin so many of the materials that surround us. Finally, we look at how tensors can be used to represent the properties of three-dimensional materials, and we consider how symmetry places constraints on the properties of materials.

We move on to an exploration of quasi-, plastic, and liquid crystals. Then, we learn about the point defects that are present in all crystals, and we will learn how the presence of these defects lead to diffusion in materials. Next, we will explore dislocations in materials. We will introduce the descriptors that we use to describe dislocations, we will learn about dislocation motion, and will consider how dislocations dramatically affect the strength of materials. Finally, we will explore how defects can be used to strengthen materials, and we will learn about the properties of higher-order defects such as stacking faults and grain boundaries.


What you’ll learn

  • How we characterize the structure of glasses and polymers
  • The principles of x-ray diffraction that allow us to probe the structure of crystals
  • How the symmetry of a material influences its materials properties
  • The properties of liquid crystals and how these materials are used in modern display technologies
  • How defects impact numerous properties of materials—from the conductivity of semiconductors to the strength of structural materials


  • University-level chemistry
  • Single-variable calculus
  • Some basic linear algebra

Who can take this course?

Unfortunately, learners from one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba and the Crimea region of Ukraine. While edX has sought licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to offer our courses to learners in these countries and regions, the licenses we have received are not broad enough to allow us to offer this course in all locations. EdX truly regrets that U.S. sanctions prevent us from offering all of our courses to everyone, no matter where they live.

Meet your instructors

Silvija Gradečak

Silvija Gradečak

Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jessica Sandland

Jessica Sandland

Lecturer & Digital Learning Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jessica Sandland is a Lecturer in the Department of Material Science and Engineering and an MITx Digital Learning Scientist. Jessica leads online learning initiatives in DMSE, creating MOOCs and designing blended courses for MIT students. She has coordinated the development of a wide variety of DMSE’s online courses.

Experience Level


Learning Partner

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Program Type



Chemistry Engineering Science