Teaching students to think small, quickly
March 27, 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 sophisticated atomistic modeling techniques to traditional materials research in just a few classes, an advance that could dramatically change the way civil engineers learn to model the mechanical properties of materials and provide enormous