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September 30th, 2011

Materials Football Game of the Week: Yale vs. Lehigh

Published on September 30th, 2011 | Edited by: Eileen De Guire

The Game
Yale University at Lehigh University
Oct. 1, 12:30 p.m., ET

Both of these teams know their football and have rich traditions. Lehigh, I’m told, has the longest running matchup in college football in their 146-game rivalry with Lafayette. At Yale, “The Game,” (meaning the Harvard contest) is much anticipated every year.

However, these guys play each other tough.

At stake is the Yank Townsend Trophy, which honors Lehigh alum (class of 1895) and Connecticut resident, Charles Frederick Townsend, a big fan of athletics at both schools. Yale was first to take it home in 2006 and has been able to hang onto it with two wins since then, including a 7-0 shutout win in 2009. Lehigh’s older players are still smarting from that, and sure would love to be the next custodians of the Yank Townsend Trophy

My pick? Tough call, but I’ll go with Lehigh in a hard-fought, close game.

The home team
Lehigh University, Materials Science & Engineering

World’s largest nanotube: MSE undergraduates gaze down the column of a model single-walled CNT during NanoDays at the Da Vinci Science Center. Credit: Lehigh University

World’s largest nanotube: MSE undergraduates gaze down the column of a model single-walled CNT during NanoDays at the Da Vinci Science Center. Credit: Lehigh University

Up close and personal describe Lehigh’s department of materials science and engineering. And, Lehigh’s concept of up close is really up close, like electron microscope close.

The department has a long tradition of excellence in microscopy, backed up by a clean sweep of this year’s International Metallographic Society’s annual contest. Two Lehigh teams tied for first place honors and third place also went to a Lehigh team (no second place prize this year). Department head, Helen Chan says the department has some entries into this year’s ACerS Ceramographic Contest, so don’t be surprised if some Mountain Hawks are in the winner’s circle at MS&T in Columbus in a few weeks.

The department has a scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope dedicated to undergraduate activity. Senior Chris Marvel says the electron microscopy course has been his favorite so far: “[Electron microscopy] takes several principles from quantum mechanics and utilizes them to extract topographical or chemical characteristics of a sample.” In fact, it is the relationship between “materials on the smallest possible scale” and properties that drew him to study materials.

First-year engineering students at Lehigh participate in a common curriculum, which includes a project-oriented course designed to introduce students to the many flavors of engineering. Students choose two projects to “test drive” the major. This year students will be designing and casting aluminum putter heads using the lost foam process. Open house department tours are held several times during the year, and of course, include stops at the microscopy station. As Chan says, “Microscopy is a big deal with us.”

In addition to a BS degree, there are three minor programs: nanotechnology, polymer science and engineering and mechanics of materials. Also offered is a five-year program that leads to a BS and a BA degree in the arts, and another five-year program leads to a BS and a master’s of education. Finally, an integrated and business engineering functions similar to an honors program.

In the upper years, there are two options for students to get hands-on experience. The industrial option give students a for-credit opportunity to work at a local company, and they function like part-time internships. A very popular option, it sometimes leads to a paid internship.

The research option is a for-credit opportunity for students to work in a professor’s lab. Students participate during the school year or over the summer, and many will register for research credit for several semesters, allowing them to see how a scientific investigation evolves.

Lehigh is also home to the NSF-sponsored International Materials Institute for New Functionality in Glass, which recently won a second five-year grant. Partnering with Penn State University, IMI conducts an REU program in the summer, and has been strongly engaged in sponsoring international research exchanges (see the September Bulletin), including some for undergrads.

Once students find their way to MSE—and about 30 per class do—they find themselves in a close-knit group. A highlight of the year is the annual winter banquet, where Marvel says “you learn a lot about the professors in an atmosphere that is not as formal.” Chan says there even have been several marriages between undergrads in the department.

The easy relationship between faculty and students extends into the community, too. The department has partnered with the local Da Vinci Science Center during their annual NanoDays event, which introduces elementary school students to nanotechnology. Faculty and students lead the youngsters in activities that get the idea of the nanoscale across in a way they can understand, like building human snowflakes, or building Lego towers while wearing oven mitts to show how hard it is to manipulate nanoscale objects with larger-scale tools.

Football season is liberally interpreted. “A lot of the faculty are from the UK, so we are also soccer people. Anytime there are big soccer events like the World Cup, we like to make an occasion of it in the department,” says Chan, who is herself from the UK.

To get the campus revved up for the game, the marching band traditionally brings their unique enthusiasm directly to the classroom, interrupting classes to play a few bars. Every Mountain Hawk touchdown is celebrated by shooting a cannon, a duty currently performed by an MSE student.

Of the 13 faculty in the department, those involved in ceramic and glass research include Chan, Martin Harmer, Himanshu Jain and Jeff Rickman. Harmer was the ACerS 2010 Sosman Lecturer.

The visitors
Yale University, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science

Prof. Schroer demonstrating induction melting of metallic glasses

Prof. Schroer demonstrating induction melting of metallic glasses

Yale’s history is firmly planted in colonial times, but its vision is all about the future.

Yale College dates back to 1701 when it was established as a liberal arts college, “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.”

Today, the university maintains its liberal arts tradition, but has expanded over the years to offers students a wider range of academic options, including engineering. The department of mechanical engineering changed its name in 2010, adding materials science. At present, the department does not offer a degree in materials science; instead, students earn a mechanical engineering degree and can add a concentration in materials science.

The department’s name change, however, is an indicator of a much larger commitment to materials science that is being implemented in phases.

Since about 2002, the department has strategically expanded its faculty and hired several new professors, most with expertise in materials science. A recent $13 million NSF award for the Yale Center for Excellence for Materials Research and Innovation expands the materials footprint on the research side. And, the department is in the final stages of developing a curriculum that will lead to a BS in materials science and engineering. Director of undergraduate studies, Prof. Corey O’Hern, said he expects that “When we roll it out, it will strike a major chord”

Senior Bryn Pitt echoed O’Hern’s prediction in an email, paraphrasing his high school history teacher, “materials has to at least be your second favorite aspect of engineering because no matter what your favorite aspect is, it involves materials.”

The dual nature of the department was a perfect fit for senior Adam Verreault. Inspired by the idea that machines can improve the quality of life, he was drawn to alternative energy, knowing that society “would have to come up with smart ways to extract energy from other sources.” He says “I first became interested in materials science in while learning more about alternative energy, and in particular, solar energy technologies.”

Staying true to its origins, students are embedded in a liberal arts environment. O’Hern says students gain a “liberal arts education, and on top of that, significant engineering coursework.” Students tend to have very broad interests that expand beyond the technical. Junior Nick Demas says the liberal arts emphasis “allows me to look at a problem and its potential solution from many different perspectives, which is really how you get the best results.”

A tangible manifestation of the arts and sciences connection, the university is building an “idea incubator” on campus that will provide space and facilities for undergraduates to get their creative juices flowing. The incubator is sited at the intersection between the humanities and science sides of campus to emphasize the synergy between creativity, design, science, technology and art.

There is ample opportunity for hands-on experience, too. O’Hern explains that the department works to ensure that all undergrads have a research experience, especially during the summer. In his role, he helps students find faculty research mentors and helps guide students to fellowships and off-campus REUs.

Two student groups in the department give students a chance to exercise their engineering muscle. Relevant to materials science is the DROP Team, which participates in a NASA-sponsored gives student teams a chance to conduct research in microgravity on parabolic flights. Students interested in less dramatic flying may prefer to participate in the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association, which conducts experiments on payloads in the upper atmosphere using, for example, weather-related balloons.

Outside the classroom, “engineering majors are able to have rich extra-curricular lives,” says Verrault. For example, he took a short-term mission trip to East Asia that gave him the chance to “engage with students with a totally different world-view … This experience helped me to identify my most essential beliefs and taught me how to share those beliefs in a culturally relevant way.”

Gabe Fernandez, a senior and Yale right guard, will be sending plenty of messages of his own to the Lehigh football team on Saturday. Life as a student-athlete, he says, is “extremely hard” but worth it. “I enjoy the feeling you get when you know you’ve given it your all and come out victorious at the end of the day with your teammates (friends).”


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