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Incorporation Of Biological Materials Into An Introductory Materials Engineering Course

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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

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Page Count


Page Numbers

11.744.1 - 11.744.10



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Paper Authors

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Brian Mitchell Tulane University

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

Incorporation of Biological Materials into an Introductory Materials Engineering Course

As biology continues to establish itself as a scientific pillar of engineering alongside chemistry, physics, and mathematics, materials science and engineering instructors must find ways to accommodate the influence biology is having on their discipline. Specific examples are given of how fundamental materials science and engineering topics such as crystal structure and phase diagrams can be adapted to describe biological materials. Moreover, a holistic approach to the incorporation of biological materials into an introductory-level materials science and engineering course is described that goes beyond the mere use of example problems, and treats biological materials on the same level as metals, ceramics, polymers and composites. The prerequisite topics required to treat biological materials on this level, and the resulting level of depth with which they may be covered, particularly for chemical engineering students, are also described.


Materials science is not only a discipline of its own with a fascinating history of development1, but is a sub-discipline of most of the engineering disciplines. As such, it is taught alongside such topics as Thermodynamics, Statics and Dynamics, Separation Processes, and Computer Science. One difficulty with this approach is that the entire discipline is often boiled down to a one-, or two-semester introductory level course. Such courses in Thermodynamics are also common, but the First and Second Laws don’t change much from year to year. How we teach them might (and should) change, but the fundamental properties are universal. Similarly, new computer languages and programming codes replace older ones (C++ for Fortran, for example), but the end goal is the same: to write a program that performs a specified function and to understand the implicit logic behind this process. Materials science, in contrast, is a cumulative discipline, and the incorporation of new topics such as self-assembly and nanocomposites proves to be difficult if the fundamental topics such as structure, phase equilibrium and mechanical properties are replaced. As a greater number of concepts are incorporated into an introductory materials science course, there is necessarily a reduction in the level with which pre-existing concepts can be taught. The struggle, then, is to retain the necessary fundamental topics with sufficient rigor such that new topics can at least be introduced to the students.

In response to the increase in required topics, introductory materials texts have a correspondingly larger number of chapters on such topics as environmental issues (recycling, corrosion) and materials selection. Recent editions of two of the most widely utilized textbooks for introductory materials science courses contain 20 and 23 chapters, respectively2,3. Such modularization is convenient for the instructor, but may not present the material in the most unified manner possible for the student, especially if the instructor opts to present the material out of order from the text (on which many students heavily rely).

The burgeoning of biology as a pillar of engineering disciplines, particularly in chemical engineering4,5, threatens to exacerbate this difficulty. The incorporation of biological materials into an introductory materials science course is a completely logical consequence - research on biological materials has been carried out for many decades now, and there are well-established textbook devoted solely to these types of materials6, just as there are introductory texts on

Mitchell, B. (2006, June), Incorporation Of Biological Materials Into An Introductory Materials Engineering Course Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1106

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