A metallurgist is an engineer who specializes in studying the properties of metals. Metallurgists may also have training in geology, as metals extraction can be heavily involved with geology and an understanding of geology can be important to some people who work with metals. Metallurgists can be found working in a wide variety of settings all over the world, and employment prospects in this field are generally quite good.
An extraction metallurgist focuses on getting useful metals out of ores. He or she may also be interested in the process of purification and alloying, working with metals to develop well-known products and developing new metals which can be applied to a range of engineering problems. Chemical and physical metallurgists study the chemical and physical properties of metal, looking at things which stress metal, such as fatigue, corrosion, and temperature changes. A process metallurgist specializes in turning metal into something useful, and exploring the ways in which metal products can be manufactured and utilized.
To become a metallurgist, it is usually necessary to attend a training program which offers opportunities to people who are interested in careers in metallurgy, ranging from a technical school which teaches people forging techniques to a college or university engineering program. Some metallurgists may also acquire their skills on the job, working under supervision initially and eventually independently, although this method of learning metallurgy is less common.
Metallurgists spend a lot of time in the lab, studying metals and conducting experiments with them. They can also work in smelting facilities, monitoring the production and alloying of metals and supervising the process of handling metal ores. Others work for companies which use metal products, such as car companies, which may use the services of a metallurgist to engineer cars for maximum safety and efficiency. Metallurgists may also work for private consulting firms and governments, providing a range of services ranging from forensic investigation into bridge failures to policy recommendations which are designed to standardize metal products.
Metallurgy is not all about heavy industry. A metallurgist can assist with the production of jewelry and other fine arts which involve metals, supervising the alloy of metals used in jewelry to ensure that the metal remains of high quality, and helping jewelers and sculptors fabricate complex custom projects. This aspect of the field involves a blend of engineering acumen and artistic flair, as well as an ability to communicate with diverse people and companies, ranging from a jeweler who is very concerned about quality control to a company which sells metals used in jewelrymaking.