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Granta hosts unique international materials education event

The Materials Education Symposium

March 26, 2010

Delegates from 20 countries attended the second running of the International Materials Education Symposium at Cambridge University.

Together with the associated CES EduPack Short Courses (pictured, right) the Symposium constituted a hugely enjoyable and informative three day event. An excellent panel of eight speakers from across Europe and a well-populated poster session stimulated discussion on a wide variety of topics.

Short course

   

Most attendees stayed on campus at Murray Edwards College and participated in the social program, including a dinner at the historic Trinity Hall (right). This provided plenty of opportunities for networking.

With around 100 people present on the Symposium day, many participants commented that this may have been the largest event in the world solely dedicated to materials education in 2010.

Symposium dinner at the historic Trinity Hall

Symposium report

Professor Mike AshbyThe one-day Symposium was opened by Professor Mike Ashby of the University of Cambridge. Professor Ashby discussed current and developing approaches to materials teaching, touching on different teaching approaches (e.g., design-lead and science-led), the range of subjects to which materials teaching is relevant, and some emerging trends (e.g., the increasing importance of eco design). He noted how other speakers throughout the day would speak on many of these topics and also introduced some relevant recent enhancements to the CES EduPack software and supporting resources—including an Eco Audit Tool to facilitate teaching of sustainability issues, and developments to make the software even more intuitive and easy-to-use.

Dr Erik Tempelman of the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology was the next speaker. His lively presentation described the innovative Industrial Design Engineering program at Delft, including the use of CES EduPack within a framework of different teaching modes that is aimed at providing students with the depth and breadth of knowledge required to make meaningful production process choices. A key element was a second-year "Industrial Production" course that concentrated not on giving the student "a little bit of everything", but on in-depth coverage of a small number of processes. A research project found that students who had benefited from this approach ended up with improved grades compared to those that had not. As well as outlining advantages of CES EduPack, Dr Tempelman offered suggestions for enhancements to its process selection capabilities. These led into a discussion, with some debate as to how much guidance the system should give to the student—great input for the EduPack development team!

Professor Alexander WannerNext up was Professor Alexander Wanner of the new Karlsruhe Institute of Technology—the result of a merger of Universität Karlsruhe and the research center Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe. He spoke on the use of CES EduPack in a rather more specialist third-year course: "Materials Selection in Mechanical Design". The course, which has been taught for six years, concentrates on examples that lead to materials indices, which can be used to compare and rank materials in a straightforward manner. However, an important learning objective is to also make students aware of the limitations of standard textbook procedures. For example, Professor Wanner described a selection problem in which the space available for the component being designed is limited, complicating the mathematics and leading to performance indices that are not separable into a pure materials index and other functions describing geometric and functional constraints. He showed how students are taught to approach such "beyond-the-textbook" cases, deepening their understanding of materials selection as they go, and demonstrated the use of CES EduPack in tacking such problems.

The morning concluded with Dr Matt Murphy and Dr Andrew Green of the University of Liverpool giving a joint presentation on the use of e-learning tools and resources in materials education. Dr Murphy began by discussing changes in the teaching of materials over the past twenty years, from a subject taught to students for whom it was the major focus, with an emphasis on the fundamental science, to a subject now taught within a wide variety of engineering programs and focused on engineering applications. He argued that this required a shift in the style of teaching and described the current course at Liverpool—a mix of lectures, case study and project activities, and independent learning and tasks undertaken by the student. CES EduPack has helped the development of this approach through its case study problems, science notes, and use in design projects.

Dr Green described a project for 2nd year engineers, developed with Corus, Siemens VAI, and the World Steel Association, that challenges teams of students to run a virtual steelmaking process, with the goal of achieving a given specification at the lowest total cost. The challenge (details at www.steeluniversity.org) attracted over 600 entrants in 2010.

Poster sessionAfter lunch, and a visit to the poster session, Dr Javier Orozco of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia spoke on "Materials Selection Projects for Product Design in its Life Cycle". He introduced the concept of designing for the life of a product and the importance of considering whether materials are recyclable, renewable, efficient in their use of resources, safe, or have a social impact. He discussed the use of CES EduPack in helping students to understand these issues, particularly through project-based learning, which helps to motivate students by having them work on real application examples. Dr Orozco showed output from real projects, including work on a gas bottle rack, safety helmet, thermal tiles, a toothbrush, car wheel rims, a tent, carpet fibers, and tires. CES EduPack was used in these projects to consider materials options and conduct eco audits.

Dr Rob Wallach then joined the meeting, appropriately coming straight from running a vacation project for high school students elsewhere in the University of Cambridge. His topic was how we excite students into choosing materials science. He covered three levels of engagement with students:

  • Pre-university high school students, where he summarized a lecture designed to interest students in "why aeroplanes don't fall down"
  • Students in the early stages of general physical science degrees, such as that at Cambridge, where he showed an example of a mini-project used within the materials course and involving a materials investigation of a manufactured article such as a cigarette lighter
  • The teaching of materials selection and sustainability to third and fourth year students

Dr Rob WallachAt each stage, the goal was to engage the students in materials by demonstrating their practical application and relevance, and to encourage an interest in further study. CES EduPack was used to illustrate key points about materials or for project work at each stage. Dr Wallach concluded with a practical demonstration of the output from that day's high school project—racing a small mousetrap-powered "car" across the stage!

Dr Joe Carruthers of the NewRail project at Newcastle University talked about a practical research use of the CES Selector software. The software was used as a means of assisting rail vehicle designers with the specification of lightweight materials in a systematic, robust and rational manner. The methodology was applied to four metro vehicle case study components – an interior grab rail, a gear-box casing, an external door leaf and an interior floor panel. For each case study, the objective was to reduce the mass of the existing component through the application of lightweight materials and designs whilst retaining (or enhancing) the existing functionality. Dr Carruthers described the successful grab rail project in detail during his presentation.

Finally, Dr Andrew Green returned to describe the output of the Collaborative Open Resource Environment (CORE) project, which aims to make a significant number of the many existing materials electronic learning resources freely available online. The project has been funded by the JISC / Higher Education Academy Open Educational Resources programme, and is a collaboration between 20 educational and professional partners across the materials community.

Each of the talks was followed by a brief discussion session, with a wrap-up session chaired by Professor Mike Ashby and Granta's Dr Patrick Coulter at the end of the day. All suggestions relating to CES EduPack made during these discussions will be fed into the EduPack development planning process.

Feedback from the Symposium and Short Course attendees was very positive. This has encouraged Granta to grow the event. The 2011 Symposium will be extended to two days and organized in collaboration with an Advisory Committee of academics drawn from leading universities and materials organizations.