Materials at Work

Schliessen Icon
These competencies are explicitly fostered and described in Competence View.
These competencies are fostered in this course but are not explicitly described in Competence View. Please contact the responsible person for further information. Competencies in grey are fostered in this course but are generally not the focus of Competence View, which focusses on cross-disciplinary competencies.

The purpose of this course is to strengthen the engineering aspect in the training of materials scientists. At the heart of the course’s design is fostering and questioning the challenges of the professional world. The aim is not to adapt to the actual situation, but to prepare for the working environments of the future.

What do the teachers and students do in this course?

Key point of the course is: self-discover what is the right question to ask. Students should learn to pose the right questions and to propose solutions pathways and ideally also find the solution. The lecturers have been chosen to exhibit a range of background, which in addition to science includes a background in business and engineering in an industrial setting. In addition the students have access to experts in analysis methods in the department.

What are the most important elements of the course?

We used to teach courses by material classes (e.g. metals, polymers, ceramics, glasses, etc.), but the next generation of materials alumni will be predominantly work on systems that encompass many materials classes or change the materials focus during their careers.
The goal is to address all the material classes together and work in an overarching way. The working environment has become more dynamic and we aim to prepare the people solving the material challenges of 2030 and beyond, where creative thinking is of the essence.
Consequently, an important element build in the course is the reverse-engineering project.

It was a fun project with many different aspects and possibilities to learn, from material analysis techniques to theoretical optimization. The guidance in the form of questions to think about was very important to give some initial structure to our working process.
Materials at Work group project testimonial
Question :
But reverse-engineering does not sound like a lot of creative thinking. How does such a project look like?
Answer:
To prepare the people solving the material challenges of 2030 it is essential to know the basics and in specific cases go into depth. It is important to know the basics needed to ‘get the job done’, e.g. when using composite materials.

It is all about “Enabling the students for the world of the future”.

Here enters the aspect of Reverse Engineering. Students receive practical examples, i.e. everyday products like packing material, coins, skis, USB sticks, etc. They then have to address a series of questions. What is it made of? How is it processed? Why was it done this way? Who owns the intellectual property? Then the students are encouraged to search for alternatives. Here creative thinking is essential. They self-explore a unique journey culminating (ideally) with a lot of creative ideas. It turned out that it helped the students to provide them with guiding questions to help them solve the appropriate problems.

The project is done in groups of 3 to 5 people. They have 10 weeks to work on the project
Question :
Sounds like difficult to assess. How is this done?
Answer:
The project is 30% of the final grade (rest of the grade is an oral end-of-semester examination). Students are asked to give a specialist presentation of 10 minutes on the project’s topic. That’s a very short time. In the presentation they generally build-in a lot of backup slides where they put all the work they have done, but was skipped due to the time-constraint. One group went even further. They prepared 3 different presentations, with 3 different examples, each deepening one specific aspect. Then they let the audience choose which example should be presented. This shows the huge commitment of the students.
Question :
Why did you choose to work in groups instead of foster the individual experience?
Answer:
Because most engineering developments are a result of teamwork. The groups are formed by the lectures and students cannot choose their team mates. This is a small design element that tries to be close to the real working environment, where teams are also formed by senior supervisors. We try to form the groups with a similar mix of diverse backgrounds (ranging from their prior training to gender and internationality).
Question :
Why do you do this? Does the academic background make any difference?
Answer:
es, because as mentioned before, it is important to get in contact with different experts throughout the department. And our BSc students know most of the people already. They have a network and they know the infrastructure. This knowledge is efficiently transferred to the incoming MSc students, which are new to ETH and its labs.

Speaking of which: the spaces are important. We are building a new materials lab for all the courses that include project work. This space is only for teaching, but has the same analytical equipment and infrastructure as a scientific lab. The idea is again to get our teaching close to a realistic working environment.
Question :
Why not send them to a “real” lab then?
Answer:
In our materials design lab dedicated only to teaching the students are free to make mistakes, try out new things, be creative, be innovative, and sometimes also break things. Important is the teaching and learning experience with the boundary condition of ensuring safety. We will introduce dedicated training each area of the lab or potentially dangerous equipment.
Question :
What are the success factors?
Answer:
We take advantage of the small size of our department. The students are encouraged to get in contact with the experts from all over the department. This helps them also later while working on the MSc and eventually the PhD thesis. No proactive coaching is done (there are no pre-scheduled meetings with coaches), but lecturers are typically available one hour a week.

But the students are not completely left alone in finding the way to the experts. They also get a series of formal and general inputs on the topics important to us.
Question :
Could you be more specific?
Answer:
We provide short series of lectures about

• Project management, where students get in touch with some projects management tools

• Economic aspects related to materials

• Intellectual property (how is a product/idea protected? Are there alternatives?)

• Sustainability (what are alternative processes and materials?)

• Materials selection

• Feedback on presentation skills given in the plenary final presentation session
Personally, I believe projects are a much more useful tool than exams for students to really understand what is seen in class. In the end, if one needs to apply a concept or a software and present it in front of someone afterwards, chances are the internalization will be more complete than compared to when studying for an exam. Furthermore, I prefer reading/working rather than studying something, sometimes even by heart; but that is just my opinion.
Student?

Testimonials

Testimonial 1

Personally, I believe projects are a much more useful tool than exams for students to really understand what is seen in class. In the end, if one needs to apply a concept or a software and present it in front of someone afterwards, chances are the internalization will be more complete than compared to when studying for an exam. Furthermore, I prefer reading/working rather than studying something, sometimes even by heart; but that is just my opinion.
In addition, group projects can be specially challenging. We all have different schedules and different expectations (as of dedication or interest on the project), which makes it more difficult to reach agreements and, in general, to develop the topic. However, it is also true that each of us contributed from a different perspective enriching, this way, by a large amount everyone’s knowledge.
In this particular course, both projects completely differ from each other. Whereas the 3D printing challenge was a more applied and fun task, the reverse engineering project required a more holistic study of the product we were given. Moreover, in the latter, once a series of key points were covered, it was our choice to decide what we wanted to talk about to really show what we learned and enjoyed the most. Even though it might be a hard task to only spend 10 minutes talking about something one has worked on for the whole semester, it also makes one think about what really matters and is worth talking about.

Materials at Work group project testimonial

It was a fun project with many different aspects and possibilities to learn, from material analysis techniques to theoretical optimization. The guidance in the form of questions to think about was very important to give some initial structure to our working process. The cooperation with different researchers at the department in using various analytical techniques was very insightful. Nonetheless, having existing contacts (from previous work in research groups) was extremely helpful in this step. It facilitated access to the groups and labs. This meant that having done a BSc at D-MATL was of great advantage, in comparison to students from other departments or new MSc students from other universities. Therefore, mixing the groups is very important in order to at least have some students with existing connections in the department. As an improvement suggestion, contact with the researchers could have been facilitated past the small list of email addresses given in the first hour. It would have been useful to know which analysis techniques are available, for example in Prof. Spolenak’s and Prof. Dufresne’s own labs.

Course Description

Name:
Materials at Work I & II
Description:
This course attempts to prepare the student for a job as a materials engineer in industry. The gap between fundamental materials science and the materials engineering of products should be bridged. The focus lies on the practical application of fundamental knowledge allowing the students to experience application related materials concepts with a strong emphasis on case-study mediated learning.
Objective:
Teaching goals:

to learn how materials are selected for a specific application

to understand how materials around us are produced and manufactured

to understand the value chain from raw material to application

to be exposed to state of the art technologies for processing, joining and shaping

to be exposed to industry related materials issues and the corresponding language (terminology) and skills

to create an impression of how a job in industry "works", to improve the perception of the demands of a job in industry
VVZ:
327-1204-00L
Department:
D-MATL
Level:
MSc
Format:
Lecture
Teaching Power:
1-5
Assessment:
End-of-semester examination

loading