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What Lies Beneath The Materials Science And Engineering Misconceptions Of Undergraduate Students?

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Emerging Issues in Materials Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1366.1 - 14.1366.11



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Paper Authors


Senay Purzer Purdue University

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Senay Purzer is an assistant professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received a Ph.D. and a M.A in Science Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University. She has a B.S. degree in Physics Education and a B.S.E. degree in engineering. Her creative research focuses on collaborative team learning and the role of engineering self-efficacy on student achievement.

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Stephen Krause Arizona State University

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Stephen J. Krause is Professor in the School of Materials in the Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches in the areas of bridging engineering and education, design and selection of materials, general materials engineering, polymer science, and characterization of materials. His research interests are in innovative education in engineering and K-12 engineering outreach. He has been working on Project Pathways, an NSF supported Math Science Partnership, in developing modules for Physics and Chemistry and also a course on Engineering Capstone Design. He has also co-developed a Materials Concept Inventory for assessing fundamental knowledge of students in introductory materials engineering classes.

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Jacquelyn Kelly Arizona State University

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

What Lies Beneath the Materials Science and Engineering Misconceptions of Undergraduate Engineering Students?


Students from various engineering disciplines who enroll in an Introductory Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) class often harbor a variety of robust misconceptions. The goal of this study is to investigate the origins of these misconceptions and identify barriers to student learning of introductory MSE concepts. To categorize the sources of student misconceptions, Taber’s typology of learning impediments was used. A synthesis of research literature concerning K-12 and undergraduate physical science and chemistry misconceptions was also conducted to reveal origins of MSE related misconceptions. Misconceptions that are present in undergraduate introductory MSE students were revealed using the Materials Concept Inventory (MCI). The misconceptions were linked to four distinct categories of K-12 misconceptions in physical science and chemistry: 1) the nature of crystalline structure and unit cells, 2) the relationship between material characteristics and bonding, 3) material processing, and 4) saturation and super-saturation. These misconceptions were caused by deficiency, fragmentation, ontological, and pedagogical learning impediments. From the comparison and categorization of these misconceptions’ origins, we have made suggestions for developing effective misconception interventions and teaching approaches for introductory MSE classes.


Introductory Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is a required course for engineering students from fields which include materials, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, aerospace engineering, and chemical engineering. For students to be successful in the course and as engineers, they must develop an understanding of the basis for a material's macroscale properties. This requires an intuitive awareness of a material's structural, nanoscale, and microscale features and their influence on macroscopic properties. However, achieving this goal is a significant conceptual challenge that confronts all levels of learners in developing useful mental models1 that link the concrete "macroworld" of everyday objects and phenomena to the abstract "nano and microworlds" of atoms, molecules, and microstructure. Many students enrolling in introductory MSE classes enter with physical science and chemistry misconceptions, causing a predisposition to MSE learning barriers. Therefore, there is a need to understand what knowledge and experiences students bring to introductory materials science and engineering courses, why this knowledge poses challenges for learning MSE concepts, and how effective strategies can be implemented in introductory MSE courses to enhance student understanding.

Theoretical Framework

From a constructivist perspective, learning involves transfer of information from prior knowledge and previous experiences2. According to conceptual change theories, a major source of students’ learning challenges are due to students failing to achieve such a transfer or failing to

Purzer, S., & Krause, S., & Kelly, J. (2009, June), What Lies Beneath The Materials Science And Engineering Misconceptions Of Undergraduate Students? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4974

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015