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The Sound Of Materials: Creating Excitement For Materials Engineering And Science In Engineering Technology Programs

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Introductory Materials Science for the 21st Century

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Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1469.1 - 12.1469.20



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Paper Authors

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Kathleen Kitto Western Washington University

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

The Sound of Materials: Creating Excitement for Materials Engineering and Science in Engineering Technology Programs Abstract

During the past four years the materials engineering aspects of musical instrument design have been incorporated into our Introductory Materials Engineering course to excite students about materials engineering and science and to help them understand various complex behaviors of materials, such as anisotropic properties or specific stiffness, through familiar, practical applications. The answer to a seemingly simple question about why a Stradivarius violin sounds the way it does is found more in complex materials properties than in many other basic design constraints such as geometry. Results from the initial assessment data show that the students enjoy materials engineering to a higher degree, are more involved in their own learning, and score higher, as a group, on certain classical examination questions. For example, a classic set of problems covers stress, strain, yield, and the elastic constant given load and elongation data. The new way to introduce these same concepts is to use tuning and the design process to select strings for a violin or a guitar. Music strings produce sounds because of their elastics constants, densities and composite structures. Violin strings, because they must follow bowing action, are composite structures that must damp signals, while guitar strings should resonate as long as possible. Another illustration is that students have a difficult time conceptually understanding that objects strain under load, but they do know that musical strings change pitch during tuning. Once the students understand the underlying concepts, they more easily make the transition to classical problems. In addition to enhancements in the course and improving test scores, this strategy has succeeded in building excitement for materials engineering within the program. For example, two students subsequently worked on independent study courses and created an all carbon-fiber composite violin, two students are working on creating new electric guitars, one student completed a senior project examining the dynamic mechanical properties of violin tone wood, and a new student research group was formed.

This paper describes the exercises and demonstrations that have been used in our Introductory Materials Engineering course that have stimulated enthusiasm for materials engineering and have contributed to measurable enhancements to the course. The paper also describes those activities that might be transferred to other types of institutions to accomplish materials awareness and excitement. Specific materials science properties as they relate to stringed instrument design are given so that others adapt them for their own use. In addition, this paper contains a comprehensive literature search of the materials science aspect of musical instrument design to make it easier for others to adapt the ideas presented in this paper.


We have transformed our materials engineering course to include aspects of musical instrument design with the aim of exciting students about materials engineering and to help them conceptually understand complex behaviors of materials, such as anisotropic properties or specific stiffness, through a familiar and accessible context. The use of musical instrument engineering in class and in projects is part of a larger transformation of this course from a

Kitto, K. (2007, June), The Sound Of Materials: Creating Excitement For Materials Engineering And Science In Engineering Technology Programs Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1633

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