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Integrating Professional Ethics Into Technical Courses In Materials Science

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.358.1 - 3.358.7

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Paper Authors

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Eldon D. Case

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

Session 1664 TS

Integrating Professional Ethics into Technical Courses in Materials Science

Eldon D. Case Michigan State University

During the Fall semester, 1997, I incorporated ethics into three classes, MSM 454 (a senior-level Materials Science class), EGR 291 (an “introduction to engineering and university life” course, open to all first-semester engineering freshmen), and MSM 885 (a graduate-level Materials Science seminar). Including ethics in MSM 454 was the focus of a follow-up to an NSF- sponsored “Ethics Across the Curriculum” Workshop I attended in July, 1997, at Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (CSEP), Illinois Institute of Technology. The “Ethics Across the Curriculum” workshop was a continuation of a personal interest in teaching ethics (I also attended the NSF “Teaching Research Ethics” Workshop at the Poynter Center, Indiana University during the summer of 1996).

This paper describes the handouts, homework questions, examination questions, and in-class discussions included in the ethics component of the two Materials Science courses, MSM 454 and MSM 855. (I’ll focus on incorporating ethics into Materials Science courses, so I will not discuss the general freshman engineering course EGR 291, although teaching EGR 291 was certainly an interesting experience.) As part of this paper, I will comment on what went well, what did not go as well, what I’d do differently next time, and what the students’ reactions to the course were.

As part of an initial introduction to ethical issues, the MSM 454 class was given copies of the code of ethics for NSPE and for the American Ceramic Society (I’m a long-time member of the American Ceramic Society.) One important aspect of giving the Engineering ethics codes to the class was to introduce the fact that engineering codes exist and that a number of engineering ethics codes have striking similarities. For example, the ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), the NSPE Code, and the ACeRS Code all feature the phrase “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public”.

In MSM 454, the third homework assignment (Table 1) was the first graded assignment dealing with ethics. The class was asked to cite specific, appropriate sections of the NSPE Code of Ethics in response to various ethical problems. The first three questions of the homework set were:

1. In the six months since you’ve had your job at Fire, Inc., you have been in charge of firing high alumina (99.99% pure Al2O3) components at 1650° C for one hour, using high alumina setters. Your boss Bill asks you to fire new silica (SiO2) components. To your question of “What firing conditions do you want me to use?”, Bill answers, “Oh, the same as you have been using for the high alumina stuff.” a.) Using the Si02 - Al203 phase diagram on page 279 of the text, what is a “maximum” safe temperature in this case?


Case, E. D. (1998, June), Integrating Professional Ethics Into Technical Courses In Materials Science Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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