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September 16th, 2011

Materials Football Game of the Week: Auburn University vs. Clemson University

Published on September 16th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

The Game
Auburn at Clemson
Sept. 17, 11:00 a.m., CT; Clemson, S.C.

When my four sisters and I were young, people often confused us because they thought we looked alike. What dolts, we thought. How could anyone not see how different we are?

Saturday’s Auburn and Clemson game is a contest between brother schools with a family resemblance and some shared heritage. Both universities are public institutions in the Deep South with about 25,000 students, have tiger mascots and main administration buildings designed by the same architect. The football histories of both schools boast common names including none other than John Heisman, who was head coach at each school for several years at the turn of the 19th century.

Auburn runs in the tough neighborhood of the SEC, but Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference is no gated community. Auburn dominates the series with a 34-11-2 record, winning the last two games with only a 3-point margin gained in overtime. Auburn last visited Clemson’s home turf in 1971. Saturday is a sibling rivalry match, with Clemson having something to prove to its defending-national-champ brother.

My pick? Clemson by a field goal.

The home team
Clemson University, Materials Science and Engineering

Clemson’s engineers can claim credit for the football program. Back in 1896, engineering professor (and Auburn alum), Walter Riggs, was recruited by students to coach the first team. As a mechanical and electrical engineer, Riggs would have felt quite at home in the department of materials science and engineering.

The department hosts an annual tailgate and this year’s will be Oct. 8 for the Boston College game. Credit: Gary Lickfield, Clemson University.

The department hosts an annual tailgate and this year’s will be Oct. 8 for the Boston College game. Credit: Gary Lickfield, Clemson University.

Today the department has 15 tenure track faculty (one is joint with architecture) and a fair number of adjunct and emeritus faculty. There are 65 second, third and fourth year undergraduates and 76 graduate degree candidates.

All first year students participate in a general engineering program before choosing a major. Students learn about the breadth of engineering opportunities through a seminar course and departmental open houses. Students choose between either an “inorganic” or an “organic” track, the former being Ceramic and Materials Engineering and the latter being Polymer and Fiber Chemistry.

The tour clinched the deal for undergraduate Christopher Ostrouchov, who said in an email, “What drew me to materials engineering was the tour … They offered cool experiments.” Professor Eric Skaar says that while faculty are on hand, “the tour is pretty much completely run by students.”

Ostrouchov says, though, that faculty are important: “… the really outgoing teachers were really nice to see; you could tell they really enjoy their subject area.”

Skaar says the department has a family feel to it. Another student, James Haley, explains, “Professors are great at getting you involved in research and giving you the tools you need to apply knowledge to the real world.”

Asked what he likes about his job, Skaar said without hesitation, “I love the students. I love the 18-30 year old age group.”

Engineering students are often stereotyped as numbers nerds. Whether true or not, they need to know whether a number is any good. The program’s first lab focuses on measurement: the tools, calibration, statistical analysis and effective data presentation. The junior lab course on processing is taught as a series of case studies, and the department pulls in local engineers to help keep it real, including ACerS member Kevin Fox from the Savannah River National Lab. Keeping it real means the faculty are not afraid to use “old ways” and older equipment, which can be effective teaching tools. “In terms of pedagogy, old equipment is better because you can see what’s happening. Muller mixers are a good example, although the old ones can be dangerous,” says Skaar.

Juniors also take a course in phase diagrams that Skaar teaches “the old way,” using the ACerS book, Introduction to Phase Equilibria in Ceramics, by Bergeron and Risbud.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of REU and internship opportunities, and about 20 percent of students participate in co-op programs. In the senior year, students are required to enroll in a faculty research group experience for credit, and often, the final report is substantial enough to be submitted for publication.

In the senior design course, students work on a problem brought to them by an industrial sponsor. The students divide into two or three teams and compete with each other to solve the same problem. But, as Skaar says, local industrial opportunities means, “We’ve done some pretty funny ones.”

Recently, for example, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources asked the seniors to work on the “oyster culch” problem. Newly spawned oysters are known as “spats” and when the spats reach a certain size, they must attach themselves to a substrate, or culch, the most common of which is an old oyster shell. The oyster population has been declining, so the seniors were asked to develop a synthetic culch. After studying oyster shell mineralogy and trying some admittedly “harebrained ideas,” they found that limestone shards set vertically in the bay worked best. The oysters grow in an intertidal zone, which meant students were out in the “mucky mess” setting the synthetic culch when the tide was out.

Walter Riggs would probably be proud of today’s Clemson Tigers football team, but he might be even more impressed with today’s engineering undergrads as they applied solid materials science principles to a natural resources problem. And, therein lies a pearl.

Faculty involved in ceramic and glass research include Skaar, Denis Brosnan, Milly Kennedy, Jian Luo, Fei Peng, John Ballato and Kathleen Richardson.

The visitors
Auburn University, Materials Engineering

An Auburn first year student has a lot to learn and acclimate to in the first few weeks of college: new lifestyle, friends, independence and traditions. Freshmen, for example, have to figure out why the football battle cry of a team with a tiger mascot is “War Eagle!

Knowing how to draw a stress-strain curve is a handy skill, as this poster constructed by Kirn Cramer for the AU-Louisiana State game last year testifies. Cramer is an AU alumna and now graduate student. Credit: Kirn Cramer.

Knowing how to draw a stress-strain curve is a handy skill, as this poster constructed by Kirn Cramer for the AU-Louisiana State game last year testifies. Cramer is an AU alumna and now graduate student. Credit: Kirn Cramer.

However, Auburn first year students don’t have to worry about sorting through the possible majors right away. Freshmen come into a pre-engineering program and are introduced to different disciplines through an engineering orientation course, departmental pre-engineering courses and Engineering Week activities. Like many materials engineering departments, Auburn faces the challenge of first getting the word out that materials are designed and engineered.

There are about 35 undergraduates in the program, and as the experience of senior Carl McFarland shows, they see how materials engineering fits into a larger perspective. “I chose Materials Engineering because of the overall versatility of the degree; there is a need for materials engineers in many different areas of industry,” he said in an email. Auburn alumna and now graduate student, Kirn Cramer was more specific, “I really liked the fact that materials engineers can investigate the reasons certain reactions happen in certain ways by studying micrometer-scale evidence that could ultimately have an effect on a building size scale.”

Included in the pre-engineering program is a two-credit engineering project course. Although the course must be taken in a specific department, the credit can be transferred to any department, which gives students a chance to try out a major. The courses tend to be empirical; for example, in the materials course, students build simple bridges out of different materials, measure properties and start learning how to design for different criteria.

Elective courses in the department are cross-disciplinary to help prepare students for the interdisciplinary nature of problems and teams in the workplace. Students must take a nine credit-hour sequence outside the department, and the most popular are in industrial and systems engineering or polymer and fiber engineering.

Undergrads are encouraged to get involved in departmental research, and Professor Jeff Fergus says, the faculty “go into it with the main purpose being for [the students’] benefit” to help them decide what topics interest them and whether to pursue graduate school or career after earning their BS. Fergus shared that a summer internship at Argonne National Lab was a critical juncture for him and his initial plan to get a BS and then start working; instead, the ANL exposure turned his plan into getting a PhD and then post-doc work and academic career.

Fergus points out that the interdisciplinary focus extends to research activities that are available to students. For example, students can participate the AU Detection and Food Safety Center or the FAA-sponsored Airliner Cabin Environment Research Center.

In the senior year, a two-course sequence guides students through a “construction” exercise and a “deconstruction” exercise. In the fall materials property and selection course, students go through the steps of making a product. In the spring, the senior design course is structured as a mock court case where students study a failed component and half the students represent the “defendant,” and the other half the “plaintiff.” Area experts from industry are summoned to serve as judge and jury for the “trial.”

The department also gets its Academic Advisory Board involved with the students by having it give a presentation on ethics and society issues that relate to professional engineers.

The Material Advantage student group is active in running the department’s E-day activities (held during Engineers Week) and the pre-engineering program tours. The group also organizes local plant tours. For example, McFarland said the group took a trip to the Borbet factory in Auburn, where they “were able to observe methods of material processing necessary to make alloy wheels for car companies, such as Mercedes-Benz.”

They were probably thinking an Auburn Alumni tag holder would look just right on an SL-Class roadster

The department has nine tenure track faculty and a supported research budget of nearly $6 million. Faculty involved in ceramic materials research include Fergus and Daniel Kim.


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