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Failure Analysis Projects As Teaching Tools In Materials Science

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Introductory Materials Engineering Courses of 2020

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

11.637.1 - 11.637.13



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth DeBartolo Rochester Institute of Technology

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ELIZABETH A. DEBARTOLO is an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at RIT. She earned her BSE at Duke University in 1994 and her MSME and Ph.D. at Purdue University in 1996 and 2000, respectively. She works with several students on predicting and enhancing fatigue life in aircraft materials and structures and is active in the college’s K-12 outreach programs.

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Melissa Zaczek Rochester Institute of Technology

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MELISSA A. ZACZEK is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology completing her BS and ME in Mechanical Engineering. Her Masters focus is project management with a concentration in business. Her undergraduate focus is bioengineering with an American Politics minor.

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Cory Hoffman Rochester Institute of Technology

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CORY A. HOFFMAN, JR. is a fifth year mechanical engineering student enrolled in the BS/MEng program with a concentration in systems engineering. He has worked several years both grading for the Materials Science course and teaching laboratories.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Failure Analysis Projects as Teaching Tools in Materials Science


Mechanical Engineering students at the Rochester Institute of Technology are required to take a Materials Science course in their second year; the course includes both lecture and lab components. Materials Science is not a prerequisite for any other course and, as a result, students may not see the need to be able to learn and apply the course content. Several years ago, a failure analysis project was added to the laboratory component of the course. After several iterations, the failure analysis projects have been fit in to complement both the lab and lecture material throughout the 10-week quarter, in addition to requiring a basic knowledge of Mechanics of Materials. The projects step students through the process of finding a component that has failed in service, identifying probable failure mechanisms based on fracture surface analysis, microstructural analysis, and a basic stress analysis of the incident that caused failure. Students are responsible for sectioning, hardness testing, metallographic sample prep, and background research on the component and/or material. All project deliverables, including the final summary report, consist of presentations made to their peers in lab.

Feedback from students indicates that they find the project to be a valuable part of the course. The students make noticeable improvements in their presentation skills over the course of the quarter. In some cases, the in-lab presentations lead to discussions of different failure modes or loading scenarios among the students. Interviews with graduating seniors indicate that many students feel their failure analysis project was the only project they had prior to capstone design where they truly had free reign to perform anything other than a “canned” experiment.

The paper will outline the process for meshing project content with lecture and lab material, and some examples of student work will be presented.

Background – Materials Science Course

The Materials Science course at RIT is taken in the winter or spring quarter of the second year, typically either with Mechanics of Materials or in the immediate preceding or following quarter. Materials Science is a three-credit course (30 contact hours) with a one-credit lab, while most other RIT-ME lab courses are four-credit lectures with one-credit labs. Approximately 210 students take the course each year. The course is broken into three sections – structure of materials, mechanical properties of materials, and microstructure of materials – with about 75% of the lecture time devoted to metallic materials and about 15% devoted to plastics and ceramics. The remaining 10% is allocated for three in-class tests. A typical course/lab breakdown is given in Table 1. There is no follow-on course, and Materials Science is not a pre-requisite for any other ME department courses. With limited time for in-class instruction and a student population that saw Materials Science as a terminal course, something needed to be done to make the students participate more actively in their learning and to give clear value to the course content.

A great deal of work has been done to investigate the effects of design courses, particularly in the first year when they serve as introductions to engineering, on student success later in the

DeBartolo, E., & Zaczek, M., & Hoffman, C. (2006, June), Failure Analysis Projects As Teaching Tools In Materials Science Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1372

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