Materials Education Symposia - Home

International 2011 Materials Education Symposium

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Making Connections - Materials and Interdisciplinary Education

Prof Mike Ashby | University of Cambridge

Making Connections - Materials and Interdisciplinary Education

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The subject of Materials can trace back its history for at least 4000 years, a history longer than that of any of the other 'disciplines' shown in the adjacent figure. It evolved from early Metallurgy, which was itself informed by alchemy and by tradition enshrined in folklore. Today, the subject sits at the intersection of Physics, Chemistry, Geo and Bio sciences, Environmental science and Engineering. The Materials curriculum at many universities touches on all of these. This breadth is unusual and makes the subject uniquely well-placed to contribute to the solution of many of today's challenges, particularly: Building interdisciplinary thinking that bridges the disciplines shown in the figure, an essential ingredient for innovation from cross-fertilization; Introducing students to environmental challenges, many derived from material production and use, and which require an approach combining information from several of these disciplines; Thinking creatively about material needs to meet the changing demands of industry in the next 30 years, and in doing so, linking the science to the engineering; Devising ways in which processes can be made more efficient, economic and less environmentally damaging ? possibly the central challenge in advancing materials in the 21st century. It is important to get across to students both the history of our subject and its linking role in modern engineering practice. This talk will introduce some of the ways that we do this in our teaching, starting with a Materials "time-line" to illustrate the history. Aspects of the underlying physics of material properties are brought out using charts created (by the student, in many cases) by using the CES EduPack Elements database. The same physics underlies the properties of engineering materials in ways that can be demonstrated with charts made with the standard EduPack databases. The parallels and differences between man-made and natural materials is well illustrated by comparing charts of the properties of each, suggesting bio-inspired materials for engineering and engineered materials for bio-replacement. New units dealing with Materials and the environment make connections between the chemistry of materials and the impact that making and using them has on the environment. The motive here is to supplement the more traditional approach to materials teaching with broader scans of the materials world, bringing out the richness and diversity and at the same time drawing out the connections that link them.