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Teaching Materials Science Through Art

Prof Albert Dato | Harvey Mudd College

Teaching Materials Science Through Art

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"A student who views a sculpture may understand the materials science behind its creation or the history of the artwork. However, a student rarely has knowledge of both of these subjects, nor the opportunity to create a work of art informed by both.
"Engineering Materials: The Art and Science of Sculpture" is an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach to teaching materials science and engineering to a broad range of students. The course generates a unique collaborative environment by teaming students majoring in engineering with students majoring in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
The goal of the course is to introduce students to the materials science, history, and practice of three-dimensional art. This is accomplished through hands-on art projects that enable students to create sculptures from metals, glasses, and polymers. Simultaneously, students learn about the materials and processes used to create their sculptures. The course has an innovative instructional format that consists of five modules.
The modules are:
(1) lost-foam casting using aluminum,
(2) bending and welding of steel,
(3) 3D printing with polymers,
(4) hand shaping and blowing of glass, and
(5) found object art.
Results from pre- and post-testing, as well as student feedback, show that the course is effective in teaching fundamental concepts in materials science and engineering, particularly to women and students who are majoring in humanities, social sciences, and the arts. The modules used in the course could be implemented in introductory engineering courses, as well as in pre-college courses to encourage high school students to explore materials science. The course is a result of the collaboration between the Harvey Mudd College Department of Engineering and the Pitzer College Art Field Group, and was made possible by the Mellon Foundation Presidential Leadership Grant and the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity."