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New Approaches To The Teaching Of Materials And Design

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Materials Curricula: Modeling & Math

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.874.1 - 8.874.10

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Paper Authors

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Mike Ashby

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

Session Number 2464

New Approaches to Materials Education for Students of Engineering

M. F. Ashby and D. Cebon,

Engineering Department, Cambridge, England


A novel approach to the teaching of materials to engineering students is outlined. It starts from the overview of the “world” of materials made possible by material property charts, and develops both an understanding of material properties and skills in selecting materials and processes to meet design specifications. It is supported by extensive computer-based methods and tools, and is well adapted both for elementary and for advanced courses.

1. Why do we teach engineering students about materials? Materials science is a discipline, like any other branch of science. There are powerful arguments for the approaches to teaching of any one of these: the scientific method, the rigour, the ability to apply logical thought and reasoned experimentation to physical problems in the broadest sense. And the subject of materials is a broad one, drawing together understanding from physics, from chemistry, from mathematics and – these days – from computer science 1-11. But while the study of materials bridges these “pure” disciplines, it is, in the end, an applied science. Engineering schools include and value its teaching because engineers make things, and they make them out of materials.

The teaching of materials today is still coloured by its more recent history, in which the physicist and chemist played a great part. The starting point (taking the physicist’s view) is Schroedinger’s equation; the reasoning leads on to concepts of atomic bonding, to the geometry of molecular and crystal structures, to crystal defects and the glassy state, to alloy theory and phase stability, the kinetics of phase transformations, the mechanisms of plasticity and fracture … and so on, gradually moving up through the length-scales from the atomistic through the microscopic to the macroscopic. This understanding is the foundation on which the subject rests, and for that reason there is a reluctance to approach it in other ways. But it is a path that creates a difficulty: the information the engineer really needs to perform his or her role as a maker of things comes only at the end or not at all.

Alternative approaches are possible. One is to start at the other extreme: a birds-eye view of the “world” of materials, mapping their properties, giving from the start some ability to navigate in this new environment and apply materials information during the engineering design process. It is then possible to focus-in progressively, exposing a gradually increasing level of detail. This is not to reject the underlying underpinning of physics and chemistry;

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Ashby, M. (2003, June), New Approaches To The Teaching Of Materials And Design Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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