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November 11th, 2011

Materials Football Game of the Week: Case Western Reserve at Carnegie Mellon

Published on November 11th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

The Game
Case Western Reserve University at Carnegie Mellon University
Nov. 12, 2:000 p.m., ET

These two look-alike schools will meet for the 41st time on Saturday. Since 1986, this game has been known as the Academic Bowl, to acknowledge that these institutions are among the nation’s top research and scholastic institutions, and that these scholar-athletes compete for football and GPA points.

The Carnegie Mellon Tartans lead the series 26-14 and have home field advantage, but have been having a hot-and-cold season with a 5-4 record. The Case Western Reserve Spartans have been dominating in their conference for the last five years and bring an 8-1 record to the last regular season game of the year.

My pick? Spartans > Tartans (credit to Ian Kidd for the economy of words!)

The home team
Carnegie Mellon University, Materials Science and Engineering

Materials engineering has been a big deal at Carnegie Mellon University almost from the moment 19th century industrialist and steel man Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Technical Schools in 1900. By 1912, the schools expanded and began granting degrees as the Carnegie Institute of Technology. In 1906, the Department of Metallurgical Engineering was established. Carnegie Tech merged with the Mellon Institute in 1967, and Carnegie Mellon University was born.

On its website, the university says, “We don’t operate like other universities. From the beginning, innovation has been a part of our DNA and we continue to push the envelope.”

The department celebrates the arrival of spring at its annual Deck Party. The deck was built by engineering undergrads taking a design and construction class. Credit: MSE; CMU.

The department celebrates the arrival of spring at its annual Deck Party. The deck was built by engineering undergrads taking a design and construction class. Credit: MSE; CMU

Embracing that vision, the Department of Metallurgical Engineering evolved into the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 1992. Research conducted in today’s department reflects its steel-based roots and its attention on the future. While research interests of the 22 faculty are broad, there are four areas of concentration: electronic materials, magnetic materials, microstructural science and iron and steelmaking research.

The undergrads in the department seem to be attracted to the breadth of engineering problems that are studied. Robert Tisherman, a senior and Barry Goldwater Scholarship winner, says he chose materials science “because it gives you the most basic understanding of how engineering really happens.”

The department is the undergraduate home to about 120 students (2nd, 3rd, 4th year), according to department head, Greg Rohrer. He says MSE undergrads comprise about 10 percent of all CMU engineering students, and that about half of the undergrads in the department are women.

The CMU cohort is an ambitious bunch, “Many of them are in a double major, with biomedical engineering being the most common,” said Rohrer in an email. Tisherman is one of those biomed double majors, but says his favorite class so far was “Materials for Future Energy Systems.” Must be that breadth thing.

Rohrer said that students are drawn to the department through freshman research experiences and the state-of-the art electron microscope facilities. Research was the hook for senior Emily Walker. “I chose materials science because it has more focus on research compared to the other branches of engineering. I was able to start doing research during the summer after my freshman year. Having hands-on experience so early in my academic career was a great experience for me.”

Through her work, Walker found that university research really does apply in the industrial world. She presented her four semesters of work on a project developing lead-free solders at a conference hosted by the Semiconductor Research Corporation. Of the experience, she says, “Interacting with so many companies that support electronics research allowed me to learn about the direction that the semiconductor industry might take in the future, which was really exciting.”

Rohrer noted that the department is in the middle of a $5 million renovation of the undergrad lab facilities, which is sure to continue to attract future students like Walker.

New traditions are good things for old departments, and three years ago the department started the its annual Deck Party, which coincides with the university’s Spring Carnival. Now entering its fourth year, the gathering is an opportunity for undergrads, grads, faculty and alums to celebrate spring, the close of an academic year and the camaraderie of the materials science fraternity.

The deck, by the way, was built for the department by CMU students as part of a design and construction class in the College of Engineering. Talk about using local talent!

Faculty studying ceramic materials include Rohrer, Paul Salvador and Jay Whitacre.

The visitors

Case Western Reserve University, Materials Science & Engineering

Case Western Reserve University also traces its roots back to an industrialist—Leonard Case—and is the product of a 1967 merger between Case Institute of Technology and the Western Reserve University. WRU is itself the outcome of the merger of several small, liberal arts colleges… but that is a different story.

The Undergraduate Materials Society at Case Western Reserve University. Credit: UMS; CWRU.

The department is on the smaller side with 12 faculty and about 30 undergrad students (2nd, 3rd and 4th year), but students see that as a bonus. Ian Kidd, a junior, says in an email, “This makes it very easy to get to know professors and get involved in research early on in your career.”

Junior Rachel Craft agrees, saying “By the end of your four years you’re really close with the other students. I feel like some of my best frients are in my department.”

And there is plenty of research going on at CWRU these days, much of it connected to energy technologies through the university’s Great Lakes Energy Center. Projects include materials for windmills, photovoltaic performance and durability, substitutes for rare earths and more. Department head, Jim McGuffin-Cawley says that all of these projects have undergraduates working in them.

McGuffin-Cawley credits several undergraduate courses with bringing materials science to the attention of undergraduates. Undergraduates take a series of seminar style courses instead of writing and general education sequences. The series, called the “Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship” or SAGES, faculty are able to develop courses around ideas. For example, in the SAGES course, “The Role of Materials in Society,” McGuffin-Cawley says students learn about “historical advances and how materials lead to changes. For example, float glass and the integrated circuit were both developed around 1959, and we follow those inventions through to the iPhone and Gorilla Glass.”

The “Materials in Sports” course, a popular elective in the department, also catches students. McGuffin-Cawley points out that “Often, advances in materials lead to discontinuities in sports records,” and he cited the pole vault record as an example. Mid-century advances in metallic and fiber-based pole design and materials led to much bigger leaps than bamboo poles allowed.

This course was what sparked Kidd’s interest in materials. “Materials properties and design directly impact sports equipment not only in terms of increasing performance but also by reducing injuries by moving more naturally with the human body and reducing vibration and forces transferred to the athlete,” he said.

A hands-on kind of guy, Kidd says, “I have had many interesting experiences involving materials, … but who can forget accidentally burning a hole in the quad with a thermite weld.” Indeed!

Craft also learned about materials through her outside interests. She says in an email, “I think the reason materials appealed to me so much was because of how it related to the art classes I enjoyed in high school, such as ceramics, stained glass and metalworking.” She has continued to develop her talents by taking art electives like ceramics, and jewelry and enameling, which she says, “have been especially interesting because now I really understand the materials science involved.”

MSE was the first department at CWRU to offer a co-op program, and McGuffin-Cawley said almost all undergrads participate in either co-op or have an internship. As seniors, students get a taste of the research experience (if they have not already) when they do their senior design project. All projects are done within a faculty research program, and usually are supervised by graduate students.

The Undergraduate Materials Society is an umbrella organization for students and includes membership in Material Advantage. The department relies on the group to help get the word out about materials through activities like open houses and demonstrations for high schoolers. The group also organizes a speaker series for freshmen that brings in materials engineers from local companies to talk about careers paths.

Faculty that focus on ceramic materials are Mark De Guire, Roger French, Arthur Heuer, Peter Lagerloff, David Matthiesen and McGuffin-Cawley.


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