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Using Undergraduate Research to Teach Advanced Materials

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 2

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Paper Authors


William M. Jordan Baylor University

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William Jordan is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in metallurgical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, an M.A. degree in theology from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in mechanics and materials from Texas A & M University. He teaches materials-related courses and does research with natural fiber composite materials. He is also interested in entrepreneurship,sustainable engineering, and appropriate technology in developing countries.

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One of the difficulties in teaching advanced courses is that new developments are occurring so frequently it is hard to have any textbook that is really up to date. The author has begun to use undergraduate research as a way to teach some advanced materials concepts.

The author is interested in natural fiber based composites. His particular research interest is in banana fiber reinforced composite materials. Over the past four years he has offered an undergraduate research class that has the title Research with Natural Fiber Composites. Students who are juniors or seniors can take this class.

Each class begins with the professor introducing the topic of natural fiber composite materials. The students then spend several weeks doing literature searches in this area. They then write proposals of a research project they can complete in the final 12 weeks of the course. The professor’s only restriction on topic has been that it has to use natural fibers in some fashion. While the professor’s personal research interest is in structural composites, the students have come up with a number of creative applications.

Among the research topics chosen by the students has been: Charcoal briquettes from banana fibers Banana fiber textiles Banana fiber based structural composites Using banana fibers to remove heavy metal waste from water Rubber based composites using natural fiber reinforcement Making adobe bricks using banana, sisal and coir fibers

Assessment has been done in three different ways. Students are required to write a personal self-assessment of the course as well as group final reports and presentations. Student responses to this experience have been very positive. This includes both what they have learned about advanced materials as well as what they have learned about the research process. A second positive measure is that this work has resulted in 3 conference publications, which is not common for purely undergraduate research. A third assessment is how many students are now motivated to go graduate school. In the first three years this was done 45% of the students (9/20) have gone on to graduate school, and one of them is now working on his Ph.D. Many of them had not considered graduate school until they took this course. Since most of those in the spring 2016 class were juniors it is too soon to know how many will go on to graduate school.

One negative aspect of this is that teaching this course is on top of the professor’s regular teaching assignment and takes extra effort. However, this is not a personal problem to the author as this is seen as part of his research agenda and an excellent way to recruit graduate students.

Jordan, W. M. (2017, June), Using Undergraduate Research to Teach Advanced Materials Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29093

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