Introduction to Scientific Practice for Materials Scientists

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The course "Introduction to Scientific Practice for Materials Scientists" is offered in the first semester of the Bachelor’s degree curriculum in Materials. It was originally established as a weekly 3h course that covered topics from scientific writing to project management or presentation skills. When the lecturers changed, the department decided to adapt the course format based on student feedback and focus on those competences that students can (and must) practice from the very beginning of their studies in the accompanying lab courses. The focus of the course now lies on clear documentation and communication of experimental results in the form of reports or presentations. In addition, the students are introduced to data analysis.

Elements of the course

The basic idea of the course is to simulate the complete scientific/experimental work process from gathering information, planning experiments, data acquisition and analysis, to communicating the results in written and oral form in a concise way at the beginning of the studies. Up to two meetings take place per week during the first five weeks. For the hands-on parts, the student cohort is split in two groups because of external constraints (size of the rooms and labs). There are detailed hand-outs for each topic that is covered and guiding questions for writing and correcting reports. The students hand in their preparation for the first experiment and a laboratory report. Detailed written and oral feedback is provided for their work. During the lab course that takes place in the semester the students practice in pairs what they have learnt. They receive detailed feedback by assistants (mostly students that attended the course during the two previous years). Scientific presentations are addressed at the end of the first semester. At the beginning of the following semester the students all present one of their experiments and receive detailed feedback. Other aspects of the scientific work process such as literature search or how to design an experiment are addressed within the lab courses that take place from the second to the fifth semester and are not part of this course.

Lesson Sequence





  • Week 1:
    What?: Planning an experiment, Lab safety
    How?: Theoretical input + exercise
  • Week 2
    Data evaluation, Experiment
    How?: Theoretical input, Putting into practice
  • Week 3:
    What?: Writing scientific reports, Data evaluation with Matlab
    How?: Theoretical input, Putting into practice
  • Week 4:
    Data evaluation, Data evaluation with Matlab
    How?: Theoretical input, Putting into practice
  • Week 5:
    Writing scientific reports, Peer review
  • Week 14
    Scientific Presentations
    How? Theoretical input
  • Week 15:
    Scientific Presentations
    How? Putting into practice


Students hand in their preparation for the first experiment and a lab report. Detailed written and oral feedback is provided for their work.

Critical factors
Since the students just started their studies at ETH Zürich, their background is very diverse. In addition, they have very little previous knowledge in the field of materials science. This needs to be considered when choosing the experiment. It is critical that the experiment is authentic, but students are able to grasp the basic principles of the underlying science. In addition, the experiment needs to be designed in a way that different forms of data analysis and presentation are necessary (e.g. graphic representation and basic statistical data analysis).

The current framework allows for preparing the students well for the lab courses. Since scientific communication is not  learnt in a course but through practice and regular feedback, the combination with the department’s lab courses is ideal. These provide ample time for practicing.

The Bachelor’s degree curriculum has undergone a thorough revision and in the revised regulations no separate course on the scientific method will be offered. Instead the laboratory and project component of the curriculum was strengthened and the framework of this course will be integrated into the course unit of lab courses and projects. On the one hand this may reduce the visibility of these competences, on the other hand it will be possible to increase the congruence with the hands-on activities and allows for a planning across all semesters. The lecturers that now teach the separate course, will all be part of the project and lab course unit.

Course Description

Introduction to Scientific Practice for Materials Scientists
The students obtain a first instight into the world of materials research and are introduced to the scientific method, as it is applied in materials research and industry. The students practise acquiring, analysing and synthesising information and data, and communicating their findings in written and oral form.
Learning Objectives:
The students
- can protocol lab experiments correctly in a lab journal.
- can analyze and present data efficiently.
- can write lab reports according to standard scientific criteria.
- are familiar with key rhetorical and communication rules for oral presentations.
- can create effective oral presentations on scientific content.
Materials Science
mandatory course, 1st semester
Teaching Power:
1 lecturer and several assistants for lab and excercise supervision
ungraded semester performance