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Interactive Materials Science Learning Modules for the Gamer Generation

Prof Yunfeng Shi | Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Interactive Materials Science Learning Modules for the Gamer Generation

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Introductory materials science course has generally serves as a core-engineering course, mandatory by many non-materials science major curricula. The materials science course generally stands out as more challenging than other introductory core-engineering courses, due to its emphasis on scientific understanding, three-dimensional thinking, a large number of new concepts spanning wide spatial and temporal scales, demands on both comprehension and memorization.

The current undergraduate students are growing up playing electronics, a considerable portion of time in interactive electronic games. If materials science problem can be posed as an interactive game, the students will not only participate more enthusiastically, they can master the concept better. We have developed a series of Mathematica-based interactive learning modules that provide material synthesis/characterization/testing environment. Each module features various goals for the students to solve as well as explore freely.

These modules have been used by about 500-600 undergraduate students at Rensselaer a year, when they take the introductory materials science course. For example, for the concept of how pair-bond affects material properties (such as the bond strength affects melting point, curvature affects modulus, etc), the students are allowed to adjust the bond length, bond strength, and the curvature of the bond, and see real-time how the density/modulus/thermal expansion coefficient/melting point vary. The objective of the game is to achieve a specific combination of the above material properties, by adjusting the bond. In this way, the memorization of the knowledge point of "deeper energy well leads to high melting point" becomes an experience the students gained by playing the module. We plan to share the developed learning modules freely via Wolfram Demonstration Projects.