Material Science

Aims

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At work in the University laboratories

To increase the enrolments in scientific disciplines, particularly in Material Science. To show how materials can be studied following an interdisciplinary approach. To introduce a new professional subject, the Material Scientist.

Argument for inclusion

  • The interdisciplinary approach;
  • CIMG0329-

    Students preparing coloured glasses

  • the laboratory activity strongly connected with technological objects of everyday life and contemporary research themes;
  • partnership among Universities, industries and schools;
  • students working on tasks concerning real problems; some insight in actual research questions

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca, Department of Material Science

Educational partners

Regional Authority for Education. Around twenty schools (30 teachers and 542 students)

Other partners

Different kind of industries where undergraduate students in Material Science could spend a period of time working at the end of their University studies

Age classes

17 - 19

Thematic orientation

Material Science

Main Focus

To raise interest in Material Science through laboratory activities addressed to a large number of schools

Duration of activity

4 – 5 laboratory sessions for each group of students in the two years of the project (October 2005 – October 2007)

Resources

The project has been funded with 95,000 Euros including the contribution from the University (20% as a compulsory co-funding). This project is a part of a National project on Material Science funded by the Ministry of Education, University and Research which is part of a huge National Project on Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Material Science (“Progetto Lauree Scientifiche” Scientific Degrees Project).

Website

http://www.mater.unimib.it/it/index.html?http://www.mater.unimib.it/orienta/pls.html

Contact person

Dr. Simona Binetti, Università di Milano Bicocca, Department of Material Science

Context and conditions

Text Box: Trend in the enrollments to the University

Owing to the decrease of the enrolments in ‘hard’ scientific disciplines (Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics) in recent years in Italy, the Ministry for Education, University and Research, together with the Conference of Deans of Science Faculties and the Confederation of Italian Industry, launched a National Project called “Progetto Lauree Scientifiche” – Scientific Degrees project –, that involved 1725 schools and 200 universities or enterprises.
This REC is part of the sub-national project on Material Science among eleven Universities in different regions of Italy. About 5,000 students and 150 schools were involved.
The Material Science project has a common structure in three points: laboratory activities addressed to students of different schools of the region, usually performed at the University; on line training resources for teachers organized on a national basis by one of the eleven Universities (Parma University); limited number of stages in the University laboratories for students of secondary school and in industries for undergraduate students.

Activities and Contents

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Graetzel cell: the energy of sun light
is converted into electric energy with
a mechanism resembling that of
photosynthesis

The experiments were chosen to show how Material Science research can help to solve contemporary
problems related to energy and pollution and to understand what is behind the technological objects of our everyday life. Some of these experiments dealt with front line research problems and were an opportunity for the students to put their hands on real research problems.
One of the activities was to prepare a solar cell with two slide glasses, blackberry juice and titanium dioxide. These cells rely on the action of a natural dye to capture sunlight and can be an alternative to the more conventional ones based on silicon.

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Blackberry juice is adsorbed on the surface
of titanium dioxide to capture sun light
and mobilize electrons.

The same material, TiO2 can be used for its properties of reducing or oxidising  pollutants through the action of sunlight. Students could understand the action of degrading of this solid by observing  the effect of sunlight on coloured chemicals adsorbed on titanium dioxide.

The experiments performed during the project were (slightly different experiments depending on the facilities and lines of research of each University were performed by other groups of the Material Science ):
inducing cross-linking in a polymer; preparation and characterization of coloured  glasses; preparation of an organic LED; preparation and characterization of solar cells; use of TiO2 as photocata-lyzer to remove pollutants.

Students were asked to write a report of their personal experience and invited to take part in a competition consisting of the presentation of their activity to the other students who did not take part directly in the project.

Methodologies

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Mind the mark!

The project design envisaged a strong interaction among University, teachers and industry. Teachers were supposed to prepare their students to follow the activity at the University with specific lessons and explanations also using the online materials specifically prepared. Industries were expected to participate in all phases and accept students for all? stages.
As regards the activity at the University, young researchers or postgraduate students introduced the experiment to the students explaining in detail all the procedure and the theory behind. Then the students performed the experimental work with the aid of lab sheets. At the end of the practical work they discussed with their mentors and wrote a report.
Students performed their experimental activity in University laboratories and some of them were invited during the summer to participate in some way in the research activity of the group.
 It came out that an interdisciplinary approach to the problem, such as that followed by Material Science, could offer an alternative to traditional disciplines from the educational point of view and could give new opportunities in terms of working places.
At the end of the two year project there was a National meeting where all the groups from the eleven Universities involved presented their results underlining both positive and negative outcomes. These reports have been made available in a website for dissemination. Several schools offered their students the opportunity of preparing exhibitions showing the activities performed.

Curriculum relevance

The activities proposed have raised a great interest among students who were deeply involved in the experimental work and appreciated the opportunity of preparing sophisticated devices in a very simple manner. Teachers learnt how important is motivation and how much of Chemistry and Physics can be taught working on the preparation and characterization of materials. It has been too short an experience to forecast how this can have an influence on the curriculum.

Mutual benefits

For students and the teachers directly involved, to take part in an experimental activity completely different from that usually performed at school on materials and devices related to innovative technologies. For students, to work at the same level of the young researchers who prepared the experiments. For University members to take part in this project and to deal with educational problems meant a greater visibility of their research activity

Evaluation /feedbacks  

All projects were evaluated by a staff of experts who asked each group to write reports and answer  several questionnaires. The reports of students were also examined. The evaluation is an integral part of the national huge project, at the same level as the four disciplines. Results are not yet definitive; at the moment they have been placed in a website and are restricted only to participants.
As regards the students, their interest and satisfaction are well pointed out by the diagram below.
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Teachers, on average, were not too much involved in the first phases of the project and did not give an adequate support to the preparation of the students. Very few of them used the materials on interdisciplinary themes placed on the website. In the following phases they became progressively more involved and claimed that would have liked to work with researchers in designing the activities. Industries were absent in most of the cases.

Limits and possibilities

A project with these figures (funding and number of students, schools and Universities) deserves the greatest attention although several limitations came out from the very size of the plan. It must be kept in mind that the eleven Universities involved had to design the activities according to what they thought was the average situation in the different regions and that the REC here described had to conform to the general plan. To raise interest and participation in so many students demanded laboratory work easy to perform, impressive and related to the technology of everyday life. To fully understand what was behind the phenomena observed would have implied too much work for students and teachers. Furthermore, as already said, only a limited number of teachers used the resources of the online course with their students.
There are very good possibilities that the project will go on in the future (apparently, it will be funded again for two more years although with less money). The fact that the original difficulties (less involvement of teachers and very little active participation of the industries) began to decrease in the following phases signals a change of attitude that can make the difference for the next project. We could say that two years are not enough to produce a change that lasts.

References

http://www.progettolaureescientifiche.it  
the National Project on Chemistry, Physics ,Materials Science and Mathematics (PLS Project – Scientific Degrees Project)
http://www.mater.unimib.it/it/index.html?http://www.mater.unimib.it/orienta/pls.html
the REC described
http://www.farscimat.unipr.it/
 online materials for teachers
 http://www.requs.it
 the evaluation of the PLS project

Pictures and drawings ©project webpages

Links