UW Today

This is an archived article.

July 1, 1997

UW materials technology institute gives teachers new ways to turn students on to science and engineering

As many as 15 different materials are found in most dustbusters, each substance carefully selected for the desirable properties it brings to the dust-busting process. The motor is made of metal because it conducts electricity well. Plastic is used in the on/off switch casing for lower cost and ease of manufacture. And the filter and collector bag are made of paper because it’s porous and recyclable.

Materials science and engineering, a fundamental but often low-profile part of manufacturing, is the subject of a new summer institute at the University of Washington that aims to give high school and community college teachers new tools for designing laboratory projects that turn their students on to science and engineering.

“Most people are curious about why things break, which is fundamentally a question of materials,” explains Tom Stoebe, professor of materials science and engineering in the UW College of Engineering and director of the institute. “Manufacturers can’t make anything — whether it’s a dustbuster or a computer chip — without first thinking about what materials to use. Understanding the properties of materials and how to adjust those properties to meet the requirements of a particular project is an effective way to engage students in science and engineering.”

Twenty-one teachers from around the United States will take part in the inaugural Materials Technology Institute July 7-23 at the UW.Participants will live on campus and take part in lectures and laboratory experiments covering a wide variety of materials used in manufacturing, including metals, plastics, glass, ceramics and composites. Materials- processing techniques such as metal-casting, welding, melting and bonding also will be covered. Field trips to Fluke Manufacturing, Primex Aerospace (formerly Olin), Boeing Co. and K2 will give the teachers first-hand insight into materials issues relating to various manufacturing operations.

As part of the institute, the teachers will design a laboratory project exploring a materials science or engineering topic to take back to their classrooms. Since most of the participants are in teams comprised of high school and community college instructors from the same geographic area, institute organizers envision the teachers and their students working together on these projects.

“One of our objectives is for high school students to spend time on college campuses and to interact with college students so they feel more comfortable about pursuing higher education, particularly in science and engineering fields,” Stoebe says. “We also want to give participants some concrete tools to spice up their curricula and excite their students, which is why they will take part in lab experiments and field trips, then design a lab project to take back to their own classrooms. The National Science Standards report shows that students need more hands-on learning in all aspects of science and engineering. Working with materials is a wonderful way to make that happen.”

Assisting Stoebe in leading the institute are: John Rusin, instructor of engineering at Edmonds Community College; and Guy Whittaker, teacher at Coupeville High School on Whidbey Island. The institute is supported by a three-year $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

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For more information, contact Stoebe at (206) 543-7090 or stoebe@u.washington.edu.

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