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Materials Processing - Becoming Skilled in the Art

Dr Bradley Diak and Bob Minor | Queen's University

Materials Processing - Becoming Skilled in the Art

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A popular approach to teaching engineering that evolved out of the law and business schools is the use of case studies. Depending on the subject there may be a limited number of truly excellent cases that warrant careful study, and with time cases can become familiar and even stale, lowering student interest and making evaluations more difficult.
In the teaching of materials science and engineering, which is the interest of the present forum, there is another approach we have developed at Queen's University over the last 5 years that utilizes an untapped well of knowledge, the patent.
In teaching materials processing based upon the text by Porter, Easterling and Sharif, we have looked at ways for students to develop and demonstrate their understanding of the fundamental principles behind materials processing in real and interesting ways.
The Patent Project takes a patent describing a pre-chosen materials processing recipe and asks the students to "become skilled in the art." Patents are a valued contribution to our global society, and so are important for young engineers to understand.
In this paper we describe one processing patent studied by our 3rd class and the lessons learned. The concept and structure of intellectual property is first described in a lecture to enable students to read their patent. Over 6 weeks, students study the patent and prepare a final report that evaluates their understanding of the process, and critical and system thinking. The strength in our approach is that there are an almost unlimited number of patents freely available to study so that projects remain fresh. At the heart the project emphasizes the importance of fundamental science to understand the patent, and encourages students to become critical thinkers in challenging a patent's content. Finally our approach instructs creativity by showing pathways for process development.