June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.87.1 - 15.87.13
A Self-Designed Experiment for an Undergraduate Materials Science Course Abstract
At the author’s institution, all second-year mechanical and civil engineering students are required to take a materials science course. The course includes a laboratory component to help students gain hands-on experiences in materials testing. In traditional experiments, students are provided with detailed instructions for completing the procedure, use equipment that has already been set up, and perform tests on samples that have already been prepared. This paper describes a self- designed experiment in which students handle almost everything on their own, including material selection, sample preparation, procedure design, test setup, data collection, and result analysis. Prior to undertaking the self-designed experiment, students have finished several regular experiments such as material microstructure observation, Charpy test and tensile test. As a result, students have gained sufficient materials testing skills and background knowledge to conduct their own experiments. At the end of the course, students are required to: 1) write a proposal including objectives and procedures; 2) perform material tests; 3) write a report; and 4) present their work in class. This process has been conducted for the last two years. Student feedback indicates that overall students enjoy the experience and believe it should be continued for future students. This self-designed experiment increases students’ interests in materials science and engineering study, and also improves engineering problem solving skills which are crucial to enhancing undergraduate engineering education.
This paper discusses a second-year materials science course required for all mechanical and civil engineering students at the author’s institution. This course introduces fundamental physical and microstructural characteristics of materials and discusses how these relate to their mechanical behavior. It includes a laboratory component to help the students gain hands-on experiences in materials testing. In traditional experiments, students simply follow the instructions provided by a lab instructor, use equipment that has already been set up, test samples that have already been prepared, and obtain results that are expected by the instructor. In this way, students complete the test relatively passively. The primary benefit of this approach is that it provides the students with exposure to a wide range of experimental techniques efficiently. Even so, the number of experiments that can be accomplished is limited by both time and equipment. The end result is that while students do gain hands-on experience and a passing familiarity with several experimental techniques, there is no opportunity for deeper learning, or for the application of theory that is one of the claimed objectives of the laboratory component.
For the past two years, the author has concluded the course with a student-designed experiment in which students complete almost every stage of the process on their own, including material selection, sample preparation, procedure design, test setup, data collection, and result analysis. This self-designed experiment has increased student interest in materials science, improved student problem solving skills, and encouraged independent thinking. In addition, as students present their work in class, this assignment also allows students to practice their communication skills. Students are also exposed to a variety of experiments by listening to other presentations.
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