This is one of those subjects that people normally haven’t studied before at school, and so most people don’t really know what to expect. The course is generally well lectured, with an excellent website with loads of links and interactive teaching packages to help you understand things (as well as the answers to the question sheets). The course does start a bit slowly, but it picks up and gets more interesting about halfway through the first term.
You start with Crystallography and Materials for Devices and then move on to Diffraction, Microstructures, and Mechanical Properties of Materials. You finish the course by taking a look at Biomaterials and Materials under Extreme Conditions.
Materials Science is probably one of the most interdisciplinary IA subjects because of the broad range of topics you’ll study. The lectures are at 12 and the lecture notes themselves you will find are practically like text books which allows you to focus on the lecture material rather than on scribbling down the notes.
There is one 3-hour practical every week, which is not assessed (though you do lose credit for not turning up!). There is also a ‘Mini-Project’ in the Lent term where you’ll have to write a 2000 word report on the materials and methods used to make a particular artefact which you look at during your practicals. You get two weeks to write the report, and bags of help from the demonstrators and your supervisor, so don’t worry.
Most people combine Materials Science with two of Chemistry, Physics or Earth Sciences, although there is a Biomaterials course that Biologists might find interesting. The mathematics involved in the course doesn’t stretch much beyond simple equations although A-level Maths is still pretty useful.
The lecture notes are more than you’ll need for Materials Science, and you most probably won’t need (or want) to buy a textbook. Still if you’re super keen, the best is probably Callister’s Materials Science and Engineering: An Introduction. This covers virtually the entire IA course but make sure you get the latest edition, as this has a funky interactive CD with loads of models and structures for you to mess around with, and some additional material not covered in the main text.
The New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don’t Fall Through The Floor by JE Gordon is worth a quick look if you want to know a bit about materials without reading a text book. Although you will probably understand it a lot better after you’ve done your first year it is readable and it’s nice when some of the terms coming up in lectures are familiar even if you don’t understand them.
Link to course website: http://www.msm.cam.ac.uk/