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A Computer-Based Interactive Activity for Visualizing Crystal Structures in Introductory Materials Science Courses

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 1

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Susan P. Gentry University of California, Davis Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Susan P. Gentry is a Lecturer with Potential Security of Employment in the Materials Science and Engineering department at the University of California, Davis. In her current position at UC Davis, she is integrating computational modules into the undergraduate and graduate materials curriculum. She is specifically interested in students’ computational literacy and life-long learning of computational materials science tools.

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Tanya Faltens Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Tanya Faltens is the Educational Content Creation Manager for the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) which created the open access cyber-platform. Her technical background is in Materials Science and Engineering (Ph.D. UCLA 2002), and she has several years’ experience in hands-on informal science education, including working at the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. While at Cal Poly Pomona she introduced nanoHUB simulation tools into the undergraduate curriculum in materials science and engineering and electrical engineering courses.

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This paper presents and discusses an interactive classroom activity on visualizing the atomic arrangement of common crystal structures and planes. This two-part module is built upon the ICAP framework, with students first completing an individual constructive activity, where they mentally visualize and manipulate crystal structures. The second part is an interactive activity in which students work together to view and manipulate crystal structures using OVITO, an open-source software tool. At the end of the exercise, students evaluate their previous individual work using the solutions from the group. This lesson both challenges students to synthesize information about crystal structures and introduces them to a visualization tool used by researchers. The module was pilot-tested in a fifty-minute lecture of an introductory materials science course at a large research institution. Students downloaded and ran the software on their personal computers, which most students found to be reasonable. Students perceived this activity to be useful and educational, and preliminary results indicate that the activity supported student learning. Samples of student work are included to illustrate misconceptions that were identified and corrected during the activity. All of the resources for this activity are shared publicly to support other faculty in their curricular innovations.

Gentry, S. P., & Faltens, T. (2017, June), A Computer-Based Interactive Activity for Visualizing Crystal Structures in Introductory Materials Science Courses Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27457

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