The department of Metallurgical Engineering, founded in the year 1960, initially started functioning in the HBTI campus in Kanpur.

As the B. Tech. curriculum was of five years duration, the common core program was followed for the first three years. Thus Metallurgical Engineering department started professional teaching from 1963 when the institution shifted to the present premises. Mr. M. L. Vaidya was inducted as the first ever faculty member of the department on the 17th of March, 1963. Subsequently Mr. V. K. Agarwal joined the department and he was followed by Prof. Arun K. Biswas. By the end of 1964, there were eleven regular faculty members in the department. Dr. E. C. Subbarao was the first full Professor and also was the first regular head of the department following a brief stint by Mr. V. K. Agarwal. Mr. B. P. Suman joined the department in the year 1962 as the first staff member.

In 1963, the department was confined exclusively to the western laboratories (WL) building and the central workshop. Classes used to be held in room number WL101 through WL104 while the various teaching laboratories were run in the central workshop. The first teaching laboratory of the department was the "Physical Metallurgy" laboratory which was set up in the back of the central workshop by creating a partition. Initially, Mr. Suman single handedly used to run the physical metallurgy laboratory as well as the metallurgical engineering office; the latter was also housed in the central workshop building. During early years, serious deliberations took place in the department to shape up a timely, competitive and nationally relevant under graduate metallurgical engineering curriculum. In 1966 a conference on "Materials Science Education" was organized by the department and was attended by notable educationist like Prof. Morris Cohen, Prof. L. V. Azaroff and Prof. Van Vlack. This was followed by extensive discussions on the structure of academic program in metallurgical engineering; The centre point of discussion was should the curriculum peak in few areas such as Materials Science or should it encompass a broad spectrum including mineral processing, extractive metallurgy, physical & mechanical metallurgy, engineering metallurgy, ceramics and so on. Finally, the department decided to opt for the latter. This helped evolve the curriculum in later years and make it broad based.

The department of Metallurgical Engineering at IIT Kanpur was a path breaker and able to formulate a contemporary UG program that was second to none. This was possible due to a highly accomplished group of faculty members in the department who later became leaders in their respective fields. Science based metallurgical engineering education was the hall mark of IIT Kanpur and was flowed in true spirit in the department. The compulsory program was backed by a sound well thought of professional program. For example, much before BHU where a renowned department of Mining and metallurgy existed from the pre independence era, at IIT Kanpur, a compulsory course on Metallurgy Thermodynamics was introduced right from the beginning in addition to a core course on engineering thermodynamics. In subsequent years, full fledged courses on Metallurgical kinetics, Phase equilibria, Unit processes in extractive metallurgy, Design of materials were introduced to make the curriculum evolve with time.

In the early nineties, tailor made UG elective courses were designed and introduced to make the curriculum flexible and interesting. Through several periodic UG curriculum revision exercises, the department was continuously able to evolve and maintain a curriculum that has been a good blend of traditional metallurgy and materials science.

From the decade of eighties onwards, teaching and research in the department started to gradually drift towards other engineering materials although emphasis continued to be laid on traditional metals. This has been possible largely due to the continuous evolution of the course curriculum as well as recruitment of world class faculty in emerging areas. In 1993, the Department changed its name from Metallurgical engineering to Materials and Metallurgical Engineering and ever since, research and teaching in emerging areas of materials engineering have been extensively pursued. In 2010, the department was eventually renamed as Department of Materials Science and Engineering which further reflects focus on emerging areas of research and teaching.