Teaching students to think small, quickly

March 26, 2007

By Denise Brehm
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Civil engineers by tradition are concerned with the big picture, but some are refocusing their vision, zooming in to solve minute problems we can’t see with the naked eye, like tiny fractures in polymers, silicon or the molecular structure of proteins.

This work involves understanding the mechanics of a material -- its ability to withstand pulling, twisting and heavy loads -- at the atomic level. But the classroom technology for teaching this in a short timeframe doesn’t exist, until now, that is.

An educational experiment during IAP demonstrated that students can learn to apply sophisticat