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October 7th, 2011

Materials Football Game of the Week: Missouri S&T vs. South Dakota School of Mines

Published on October 7th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

The Game
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology at Missouri University of Science & Technology
Oct. 7, 1:00 p.m., CT

Coaches from peewee leagues through the NFL harp all the time on the importance of mastering the fundamentals. This week’s match-up does just that.

Neither school offers a BS in materials science. But, both offer degrees in metallurgical engineering and Missouri S&T offers ceramic engineering, too. None of that plast-icky stuff, thank you very much!

Both universities are tech schools, with rich heritages in mining engineering. At Missouri S&T the halftime program includes a pyrotechnic show coordinated by the mining engineering students.

Saturday is the first meeting of these teams. It’s homecoming for the 2-3 Missouri S&T Miners, and their 1000th varsity game. The South Dakota Hardrockers come to the contest handicapped by a 0-5 record.

My pick? Of course, I’m going to go with the mighty ceramists and Missouri S&T!

The home team
Missouri University of Science & Technology, Materials Science & Engineering

Tim Stack works a gob in the glassblowing hot shop. Credit: Missouri University of Science & Technology

Tim Strack works a gob in the glassblowing hot shop. Credit: Missouri University of Science & Technology

Undergraduate students in the Materials Science and Engineering department at Missouri S&T are not afraid of commitment. They are ceramic engineers! Or they are metallurgical engineers! Combined, about 140 second, third and fourth year students make the commitment with about half going in each direction.

While getting general requirements underway freshman year, students are introduced to the range of engineering majors. Students visit up to three departments for tours, demonstration labs, meet and greets with older students and faculty, etc. For many, it’s the first time they’ve heard of “ceramic engineering” or “metallurgical engineering.”

But, they have heard of glass and steel, and the department makes sure its glass hot shop and steel foundry are up and running and part of the tour. Students start to see that glass, metals and ceramics are engineered for specific functions. As senior Catie Mohrman sums up, “Everything has to start with the right materials to get the idea to work properly.”

Professor Dick Brow, and soon-to-be president-elect of ACerS, says materials engineering is a gateway to working on a wide range of problems. “When students see that starting with materials, they can work on a broader set of problems like aerospace or bioengineering, they’re sold.”

Most students working toward a ceramic engineering degree heard about the major from other students, through glass hot shop open houses or by getting involved in the hot shop’s Gaffers Guild for “engineers dedicated to art glass.” Prof. Mary Reidmeyer teaches an elective course on glassblowing, and about half the students who her class are from outside the department; some are not even engineering students. “We’re an engineering school, so even the arts-based majors have to take some technical electives,” says Brow.

Missouri S&T is one of only two universities that still offers a BS in ceramic engineering (the other being Alfred University), and students are encouraged to claim their place in the profession right away. The Keramos chapter serves as ceramic engineering’s “interface with the rest of the student body,” and provides the manpower for open houses, tours, etc. Students are encouraged to attend conferences like MS&T’11, enter the Undergraduate Student Speaking Contest and Mug Drop Contest.

They are also encouraged to get involved in the ACerS’ student committees. Senior David Shahin embraced the message and become a delegate of ACerS President’s Council of Student Advisors from 2009-2011, calling it the highlight of his career so far. He says, “I got to meet lots of great people and make new friends and professional connections. I grew as a leader and a coordinator. I got to give back to the Society that I’d become a part of. And, I got to have an absolute blast the entire time.” (He notes that a side benefit was banishing forever any fear of public speaking!)

Mohrmann, too, says that her Society activities helped her “grow as a professional and become more comfortable and confident.”

Between lab courses, the senior design project and research opportunities, there is plenty hands-on tinkering. For Mohrmann, her technical and theoretical understanding of ceramics is bolstered by the “opportunity to work in the laboratory and prove these things to myself.”

The electron microscopy course resonated with Shahin, an admitted electronics and gadgets aficionado, “…getting hands-on experience was a great chance to apply all of my classroom knowledge to real materials while getting to play with some really cool, really expensive hardware,” he says.

The two-semester senior design project gives students a chance to attack an engineering problem from an industrial perspective. It’s important, Brow says, because “The outcomes/goals/paths and the way you approach problems are so different. The priorities of industry are different.” The design sequence is no doubt appreciated by the 50 percent or so that enter the workforce upon graduation.

Brow says Missouri S&T will be sending a contingent of undergrads to MS&T again this year. If you’re wondering where to find them, check out the Mug Drop Contest because, as Shahin says, “Engineers love breaking things (when they’re meant to be broken), and seeing those mugs shatter on a concrete floor is quite entertaining.”

From a ceramic engineering perspective, the 18-member faculty bench is deep with ACerS power players that include Brow, Harlan Anderson, Delbert Day (former president), Fatih Dogan, Bill Fahrenholz (an ACerS board of directors member), Wayne Huebner, Greg Hilmas, Darrell Ownby, Mohamed Rahaman, Chandra Ray, Reidmeyer and Jeff Smith. The department leads the university in sponsored research funding.

The visitors
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Materials and Metallurgical Engineering

Kevin Gray displays the Samurai sword he made last July. Credit: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

Kevin Gray displays the Samurai sword he made last July. Credit: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

The manufacturing mantra of recent years of “doing more with less” is one the South Dakota School of Mines lives and breathes. With 87 undergraduates (across four years) and only five faculty, the department has to be sharp and focused.

One way they do it is by limiting the program to metallurgy, hence the undergraduate degree is a BS in metallurgical engineering. Also, juniors and seniors are taught as a cohort so that courses can be offered every two years instead of yearly. Department head Jon Kellar says it works because “we advise our students very carefully” and courses are carefully structured to eliminate prerequisites.

The ABET-required design project is done in a two-year sequence, but most students actually get three years of experience because freshmen are included as “apprentices,” which introduces them to design concepts right away. They shadow the upperclass teams and lend an extra pair of hands as needed.

Over the last few years, the design sequence has been built around a Samurai sword project, where different aspects of the steelmaking process are investigated. Each year is a little different, and over time, the project has encompassed all facets of the process, from iron ore reduction to steelmaking to fine metalworking. This year student teams will build miniature blast furnaces and make high and low carbon steels and see how they perform as swords. In 2009, the department presented the project at that year’s MS&T conference, and published a paper describing the multi-year design project in the conference proceedings. So far, about 50-60 students have participated in the sword-making project, making it a “defining experience,” according to Kellar.

Students who are drawn to hands-on activities (and who isn’t?) can drop by any Friday afternoon to the open blacksmithing shop. Now in its fourth year, the Friday open house is completely run by students and open to anyone on campus. With an indoor forge as well as an outdoor one, it runs year-round, and up to two dozen students stop in each week.

“Our students generally come from farms and ranches in the area,” Kellar says, “and come to us with a great work ethic.” He says they grow up having to be pretty self-reliant. “If something breaks, they have to fix it,” he says. “These students tend to know how to design or build things naturally.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the two most popular courses have to do with failure analysis (Forensic Engineering) and fabrication (Welding Engineering).

In the summer, the department hosts a metallurgy REU, “Back to the Future,” which also looks at the impact of metallurgy on art and history. Research topics range from archaeometallurgy to corrosion to nanomaterials.

The Material Advantage group is very involved in running the blacksmithing shop, but gets out into the community, too, with service projects like highway clean-up days and working with foster kids in the neighborhood. The university is located at the edge of the Black Hills, so hiking, skiing and snowboarding also compete for students’ attention.

After graduation, most students enter the workforce. According to Kellar, most are sought by companies in the metals processing industry, which appreciates the focused metallurgical degree.

However, not all graduates land in the metals industry. Met. E. alum, Dustin Thomas, for example. He is the strength coach and video coordinator for the football team.


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