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A Simple Hands-on Experiment for First-year Undergraduates that Connects the Electrical and Thermal Properties of Metals

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.109.1 - 26.109.16



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Paper Authors

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Kathleen Meehan University of Glasgow


Robert H. Hadfield University of Glasgow

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Robert Hadfield is Professor of Photonics and Head of the Division of Electronic and Nanoscale Engineering at the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom.

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Andrew Phillips

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A Simple Hands-On Experiment that Connects the Electrical and Thermal Properties of MetalsThe inclusion of materials science into the core engineering courses taken by undergraduate studentsin Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE) at the University of Glasgow prompted a review ofthe instructional materials by the staff to insure that topics relevant to the discipline-specific coursestaken later in the EEE students’ academic careers were introduced to students during this Year 1 one-semester course without significantly decreasing the instruction on topics that are needed by studentsin other engineering programmes. As a result of the review, the course was revised and additionallectures on the electrical, optical, and magnetic properties of materials along with discussions aboutthe requirements for the materials used in electronics such as solar cells, high speed transistors, andmagnetic storage were inserted into the course. The first Year 1 students enrolled in the revisedcourse in Fall 2013. While the students in general gave the course high marks in the end-of-semestercourse evaluation, a number noted that one aspect of the course did not contain any material relatedto EEE – the labs still were the traditional experiments on the strength of materials. This was not anoversight by the staff involved in the course revision; the time required to revise the lecturesprecluded the development of a new experiment on the electrical, optical, and magnetic properties ofmaterials. After the course was taught for the first time, attention was shifted to the development of alab exercise in which students would apply some of the concepts on the electrical and opticalproperties of metals presented in lectures as well as the thermal properties of metals.Since the electrical, optical, and thermal properties of metals are related to the concentration ofelectrons in the ‘sea of electrons’ and the electron-electron and electron-lattice interactions, it wasdecided to design a lab that allowed students to measure these properties and determineexperimentally the relationships between the properties. The experiment consists of three parts. First,students measure the resistance of Cu and Al wires and third wire composed of another metal. Aftercalculating the resistivities of the three metals, students make an educated guess to identify the thirdmetal. Next, students measure the rate at which blocks of Cu, Al, and the unknown metal reached asteady-state temperature after being placed on a heated stage. Again, the composition of the thirdblock is not disclosed; students must identify the metal after determining its thermal conductivity andheat capacity. Students also correlate the electrical and thermal properties of each metal using theWiedemann-Franz Law. Thirdly, optical reflectivities of the metals are measured and comparedagainst a list of accepted values. Students then make a comparison between the electrical resistivitiesand optical reflectivities of the metals. Lastly, students explain whether their identification of theunknown metal is accurate, given their experimental values of the material properties.Constraints on the development of the lab were the usual one – space, cost, time, and safety. Theelectronics lab classrooms were the only rooms available to host the new materials lab. Theexperimental apparatus had to fit on the lab benches and be portable so that it could be removedwhen the rooms would be used for electronics labs. Thus, the apparatus had to have a small footprintand, preferably, would require only the measurement equipment already at the benches. To limit thecost, the apparatus and the consumables were designed to last for multiple years. The implementationof the reflectivity measurements was postponed due to lack of time to design the experimentalapparatus. A description of the electrical and thermal measurements and the associated apparatus(4”x4” printed circuit board with temperature controlled heater stage, shown in Figure 1) will bepresented. A summary of the data collected by students during Fall 2014 will be shown. Theaccuracy of the properties of all three metals determined from the experimental measurements will bediscussed.Figure 1: Printed circuit board with a temperature controlled heater stage (4” x 4”)

Meehan, K., & Hadfield, R. H., & Phillips, A. (2015, June), A Simple Hands-on Experiment for First-year Undergraduates that Connects the Electrical and Thermal Properties of Metals Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23450

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