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October 14th, 2011

Materials Football Game of the Week: Virginia vs. Georgia Tech

Published on October 14th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

The Game
Georgia Institute of Technology at University of Virginia
Oct. 15, 3:30 p.m., ET

This week we return to Big School match-ups with this Atlantic Coast Conference game.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets bring a 6-0 record and a 12th place national ranking to the contest against the 3-2 University of Virginia Cavaliers.

Tech knows it needs to bring its “A” game, though. The 33 game series record is tied at 16-16-1, and the last time UVA welcomed a ranked team to its stadium (#22 Miami, last October), well, let’s just say the ranking slid a bit, thanks to a 24-19 UVA victory.

If Tech continues its roll toward a BCS bid, Ceramic Tech Today may have to write a post-season Bowl game post. Hmmm …

My pick? I’m thinking the Yellow Jackets will still be undefeated next week.

The home team
University of Virginia, Materials Science & Engineering

Jack Valentine receiving the 2010 Achievement for Academic Excellence Award in MSE from department head, Bill Johnson. Credit: UVA

Jack Valentine, left, receiving the 2010 Achievement for Academic Excellence Award in MSE from department head, Bill Johnson. Credit: UVA

David, of David and Goliath fame, was just a boy when he slew the giant and went on to become King David of Israel and a central historical figure in Judaism and Christianity. But, he didn’t come out of nowhere; he was descended from other important figures including his father, Jesse, and forefather, Jacob.

The undergraduate materials science and engineering program at the University of Virginia is a bit Davidic. How so? The program is growing into its maturity one step at a time, and it is drawing from the department’s 50-year heritage and the engineering college’s 175-year history.

UVA has a well-established graduate and research program, boasting 27-tenure-track faculty and 100 or so graduate students. In recent years, the department has been expanding its program into the undergraduate population by offering minors and, now, concentrations.

Instead of a BS in MSE, students earn a BS in Engineering Science. The ES degree is interdisciplinary by design, and students choose one of five concentrations: materials science and engineering, nanomedicine, mechatronics, sustainability engineering or interdisciplinary engineering.

The MSE concentration is named on the transcript (so is the nanomedicine concentration), and the degree’s depth and rigor make it the equivalent of a BS MSE degree. The ES/Nanomedicine degree is also rich in materials science and appeals to premed students.

Although students have been able to minor in MSE for a long time, the MSE concentration is fairly new. According to Susan Hull, undergraduate coordinator, “The concentration was piloted for several years, and last year we graduated our first class of five students.”

Today there are about 30 students enrolled in the ES/MSE program and another 44 earning minors in MSE. Enrollment is evenly spread across the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years, and in the distance learning program, “Engineers Produced in Virginia.”

Senior Jack Valentine belongs to the second class able to choose the ES/MSE option. Materials science caught his attention, he said, because of “the practicality and utility of the material” and “the innovative science happening with real-world applications.”

The program is not ABET accredited, but Hull points out that, as an interdisciplinary degree, much of the coursework is taken in other ABET-accredited departments, so students benefit from the rigor of ABET, as well as the cutting-edge flexibility the ES degree offers.

With the graduate students dominating the student cohort, it’s not surprising that research is a priority. Fourth year students are required to do a research project as a graduation requirement, but students are encouraged to get involved as early as possible. Research experiences can be transformative, as Valentine discovered. “Research hadn’t interested me very much my first years,” he said, but after deciding to try it out, he has found it to be an “extremely rewarding” experience.

The department’s very small undergraduate size has it’s advantages. Valentine describes the department as “comprehensive and responsive,” providing him with a “world-class education which has prepared me for doing anything [and] the opportunities available to me now are fantastic.”

In the larger UVA community, Valentine got a flavor of how materials engineers interact with other engineers. He’s become a bit of a go-to guy, finding himself used “as a resource for my other engineering friends in helping them to design and build their projects. Very few of them understand materials science and so I’ve been able to weigh in and give hem advice … It has felt like being a materials consultant, which is pretty cool.” Sounds like a career path!

The department’s visibility received a boost last year through Prof. Jerry Floro‘s participation as a board member for PBS’ Nova program Making Stuff series.

No one will be surprised if this little David of a department grows into a giant among its peers!

Beth Opila, who just joined the faculty this year, specializes in ceramic materials.

The visitors
Georgia Institute of Technology, Materials Science & Engineering

Yellow Jacket fever spills over into a recent dinner for students and industry reps participating in the mentoring program. Credit: GA Tech

Yellow Jacket fever spills over into a recent dinner for students and industry reps participating in the mentoring program. Credit: GA Tech

Georgia Tech undergrad, Sean Dixon, knows exactly how important materials science is to the advancement of humanity. In a YouTube clip he challenges, “Think about it—the Bronze Age, the Golden Age—timeframes used to be measured by materials science, but the future—you always need new materials.”

As the largest MSE department in the country, the school (Tech-speak for a department) is well positioned to deliver them. The school’s stats (pdf) are pretty impressive: 265 undergrads, 160 graduate students, 57 degree-supervising faculty and a sponsored research budget in the neighborhood of $30 million. The latest US News & World Report rankings pushed the school up three spots to sixth in the nation.

A merger in 2010 with the polymer and fiber engineering program added new expertise to the school’s traditional strengths in ceramics and metals. The school has a new curriculum starting this year that capitalizes on the depth of know-how, but students that started in one program or the other will be able to finish with either an MSE or PFE degree.

In the new curriculum, students will choose a concentration from three options: structural functional materials (i.e., ceramics and metals), biomaterials or polymer and fiber materials. However, that fork in the road comes fairly late in the curriculum says Leslie Bayor, program manager in the school. She says, “Students will learn a little bit of everything before making a decision,” the result is “a degree with a lot of diversity that leaves students ready to make aircraft, spacecraft or T-shirts.”

While the school is large on a national scale, it is small on the local scale and is one of the smallest engineering schools at Tech. As a result, it does more outreach than other schools. As Bayor says, “Students weren’t born thinking they want to be materials scientists!” She also says there are quite a few internal transfers of students from other departments. Chemical engineering students who are less interested in processing and more interested in hands-on work, for example, tend to find their way to MSE.

The school’s outreach activities include open houses and demonstrations, which student groups like Material Advantage and Keramos facilitate. Scholarships are also used to help get the school on the radar of undecided engineering students, and to encourage those in the program. Undergrad Claire Campbell, for example, has enjoyed scholarship support from Caterpillar, Boeing and Kimberly-Clark.

Students are encouraged to get involved in research right from the start, and Boyer says it is not unusual for students to develop enough proficiency in the lab to land paid summer jobs after their freshman year. The research helps students explore the many facets of materials science. “I’ve worked with three different professors as my interests have changed,” Campbell says in her YouTube clip.

It was the research opportunities that drew in undergrad Torus Washington. He’s known since the ninth grade that he wanted to work in nanotechnology, and with the new Marcus Nanotechnology Building on campus, he says, “You couldn’t help but want to know what it’s all about.”

The department’s size doesn’t interfere with developing personal connections with its students. Boyer describes the department as very student oriented with a family-like atmosphere. Campbell echoed that saying, “All the professors know the students by their first name and that’s probably my favorite part about materials science and engineering—the student faculty relationship.” And, now in it’s tenth year, the department’s mentoring program connects students with industry mentors, which, based on mentor testimonials, is as valuable to the mentors as it is to the mentees.

Football is always a big deal at Tech, and with a 6-0 record, Boyer says “Football fever is really high right now!” The department has tailgate parties on home game days, which is also a great way to introduce American football to the large foreign graduate student population.

The department isn’t shy turning football to its advantage, either, and uses football ticket giveaways to get the attention of prospective high school students and their families during open houses.

Faculty actively engaged in ceramic materials research are Ken Sandhage, Robert Speyer, Rosario Gerhardt, Zhong Lin Wang, Meilin Liu, Joe Cochran and Christopher Summers.


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