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Teaching Innovation and Economic Content to Materials Science and Engineering Students: Innovation for Materials-intensive Technologies and Industries

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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

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division – Entrepreneurship Education in New Contexts

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1477.1 - 26.1477.8



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Paper Authors


Robert A Heard Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Heard holds a Teaching Professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University. Past work includes activities as an industrial consultant, entrepreneur/president of two companies, and vice president positions in several engineering companies. His experience lies largely in the development and application of specialized new technologies and business opportunities, having significant international business and project experience. He has served on the Board of Directors of the AIST, worked on several committees in professional societies, and is a member of AIST, ASM, TMS, Sigma Xi and ASEE. He has authored 28 technical papers on a wide range of activities in materials science, including education, innovation management, environmental issues, nano-materials, steelmaking, casting, plasma and alternate iron technologies and authored a book on the Horizontal Continuous Casting of Steel.

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J F Whitacre Carnegie Mellon Univerisity

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Professor Whitacre started his career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he worked on energy technologies ranging from functional materials to systems engineering. In 2007 he accepted a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University, where he develops materials for energy storage and performs economic/environmental impact assessment for a range of technologies. His work resulted in the conception of a novel sodium-ion battery based on low-cost materials and manufacturing techniques. In 2008 he founded Aquion Energy, a company that has since grown to manufacture fully scaled energy storage devices. While maintaining his professor post, he also serves as the Chief Technology Officer for Aquion.

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Teaching Innovation and Economic Content to Materials Science and Engineering Students: Innovation for Materials Intensive Technologies and IndustriesThree years ago, The School of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University implemented“Teaching Innovation” as an initiative of the Dean’s office. Subsequently a course, “Inventionand Innovation in Materials Intensive Technologies” was developed and offered as an electivesuitable for fulfilling requirements in both the Material Science and Engineering and theEngineering and Public Policy programs. We are currently in the second offering of this contentand our student cohort primarily draws from the senior undergraduate student population,however we note that as science and engineering students, few have been exposed to more than acursory look at business operations or to product development and commercialization strategies.With all products being comprised of materials, innovative changes in material selection,processing, and material properties can be felt in almost every business sector. Many innovationsclaimed at the product level are in fact traceable to, or made possible by innovation in materials.Few if any other engineering disciplines have such a wide influence. This course is unique as ithas been constructed specifically to dissect the commonly accepted interpretation of innovationand re-assemble the process with materials and the materials business in mind.This course begins by exploring the academic formalizations of the invention and innovationprocess in a general fashion and then introduces the difficulties commonly experienced withmaterial-centric invention, innovation and commercialization. This is done by presenting therisks, issues, and opportunities associated with these five topics: (a) materials research anddevelopment, (b) materials processing and process development, (c) design and selection ofmaterials for products, (d) environmental concerns, and (e) business strategies for materialsproducers. Our student cohort makes this task challenging as we need to convey our message toscience focused and engineering focused student with materials science or from other disciplineswith interest in engineering public policy. To provide continuity in the coursework, studentsselect a novel materials based innovation at the beginning of the semester and follow it throughthese various topics and presenting on their findings at the end of the term.

Heard, R. A., & Whitacre, J. F. (2015, June), Teaching Innovation and Economic Content to Materials Science and Engineering Students: Innovation for Materials-intensive Technologies and Industries Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24814

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