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Students Get a Taste of Engineering at MSE Summer Camps


Campus activity heats up along with the temperature each June thanks to a pair of opportunities for high school students.

Materials Science Camp gives a select group of students insight into the department and its disciplines, while Tennessee’s Governor’s School for Engineering has been led by the department for the last five years.

While serving distinctly different purposes, both have increased exposure to potential students for the department, college, and even the university in general.

“Both of these serve as wonderful opportunities for students to learn about what is possible through materials science and in engineering,” said Department Head Veerle Keppens.

Not Just “Whodunit,” But How

Camps come in all shapes and sizes, and just about all of them introduce campers to a new topic.

It’s how the Materials Science Camp goes about doing it that sets it apart from most experiences.

“We realized early on that the amount of fun that campers had would determine how much they retained from their time with us,” said Claudia Rawn, associate professor in the department and director of the Center for Materials Processing.

“The concept we came up with was to turn the camp into a sort of ‘CSI’ scenario, where the kids had to learn different techniques to solve the crime.”

This year’s camp expanded the lesson to include safety.

The case centered around “Professor Knucklehead” and his lax standards in dealing with both equipment and colleagues. A series of errors in judgment led to the start of the chase for campers, but the end of the professor.

“As with anyone not showing respect to students, colleagues, ethical practices, and safety, he met his demise,” said Rawn. “Next to him, students found a note that said ‘the eagle sees at 10,000x’ and a quarter as the only clues.”

Building off that sparse information, campers used devices and machines to string together a series of clues, including:

  • Microscopes specializing in imaging features at different length scales
  • Using cold rolling to modify brass samples
  • Testing mechanical properties of materials through characterization techniques
  • Determining compounds and elements through X-ray powder diffraction and energy-dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy

Those techniques and machines allowed the 15 campers to string together the clues, helping them determine which suspect committed the crime and how.

Although the case served as the main focus that tied things together, students were involved in many other aspects of materials science, as well as other fields within engineering.

For example, those interested in biomedical and biomaterials fields got a chance to visit the synthetic cadaver, named MABEline, in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, while a field trip to ORNL provided a closer look at nuclear engineering and neutron science.

Additionally, Lecturer Chris Wetteland, who ran the camp along with Rawn, demonstrated how solar power could be put to fun use with a sun-powered smoothie station.

“We want them to learn, but we also want them to go back to their communities and say ‘I had fun,’ ” said Wetteland.

More than 100 students have now participated in the camps since they began in 2006, with many later continuing their connection with the department as undergraduates.

Hello, Guv’nah

Then-Governor Lamar Alexander started the Governor’s School program in Tennessee in 1984 as a way to encourage top students from around the state to pursue and achieve academic excellence.

While the schools for engineering and arts and science were combined in 2007—both are hosted at UT—the focus on top-notch engineering hasn’t changed.

This year, 28 students from all corners of Tennessee converged for the four-week course that introduced them not only to engineering, but also to campus life.

One of the key ways of doing that is by having the high school students spend time with current UT students, a personal touch that doesn’t go unnoticed.

“The students that come here for the month all talk about how neat it was to talk to our students about college, about classes, about any number of things that might concern them as they really start to look at where they might want to attend,” said Wetteland, who also runs this program.

“We like to break the overall group up into smaller sections, which helps increase the amount of attention students receive and results in a better experience for them.”

Each day follows a set routine, with basic coursework in how STEM fields affect society and perfecting STEM skills taking place in the morning, followed by afternoon sessions in particular areas of study.

The benefit of dividing the day in such a way is that all students, regardless of whether you are here for the engineering camp or the arts and science camp, get exposed to some level activity from the other school.

The engineering classes, led by Wetteland and Rawn, had a focus on materials science, particularly the key role it plays in engineering. After all, whether it’s a nuclear reactor, a bridge, a computer, or a chemical battery, you still have to start with the right material.

“Materials science, as a concept, can be hard for young students to grasp, but if you can get across that engineering is all about ‘things’ and that all of those things rely on materials, the importance of what we do is obvious,” said Rawn.

In addition to the in-class study, students also get a primer on what college life can be like by living in residence halls, dining in student cafeterias, and taking part in social events.

One of Our Senior Design Projects (In Collaboration With CEE & MABE) Was Featured On WBIR Channel 10!

UT Students Build Better Donation Boxes

At UT, six graduating seniors are building a big graduation present. UT’s Tickle College of Engineering is using the students’ final senior design project to build an improved outdoor donation box for the non-profit Friends of the Smokies. The group collects donations to fund all sorts of projects in the Great Smoky Mountains, which benefits from the generosity of visitors as one of the only national parks in the country that does not charge a fee to enter.


Friends of the Smokies donation box at Newfound Gap. (Photo: WBIR)

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Keppens Named Department of Materials Science and Engineering Head

Veerle Keppens

Veerle Keppens

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will have a familiar face as its head for the foreseeable future.

Veerle Keppens, who had been serving as interim head since the June 2015 retirement of Kurt Sickafus, assumed the position on a permanent basis on October 1 following an internal search for candidates.
Keppens, a longtime member of the department, has also served as associate dean for faculty affairs and was recently appointed a 50 percent role as director of the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, a key partner facility for materials scientists at UT.

“Dr. Keppens is an excellent choice that has been made by the faculty and the search committee and brings a wealth of experience with her,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “The departmental head and director position at JIAM are closely linked since so many faculty members from the department also work at JIAM.”

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The department heads in the college each serve in five-year renewable appointments.

For Keppens, the role as continued leader of the department comes with both challenges and rewards.

“Materials science has played an important role in some of the key scientific breakthroughs in recent years as new fibers and alloys have replaced traditional materials,” said Keppens. “The importance of the research we do is reflected in that growth, but it also shows the work that remains to be done and the possibilities that are still out there.

“I’m very honored to be in this position of heading a department that can have such wide-ranging impact.”

Keppens came to UT’s College of Engineering in 2003. She has authored or co-authored more than 80 technical papers and contributed to more than 70 technical presentations at national and international conferences, with her main area of expertise being the elastic properties and lattice dynamics of novel materials.

A native of Belgium, she earned her both her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, just east of Brussels.

Her work in materials science has led to accolades and honors including the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship; Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship; countless university, college, and departmental awards; and being named a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America. She also leads the Resonant Ultrasound Spectroscopy Group at UT.

With her acceptance of the full-time role as department head and split leadership of JIAM, she will relinquish her associate dean position.

Davis said a search to fill that position will begin soon, with hopes of having someone in place by January.


UT’s Physicists and ORNL Engineers Collaborations Lead to a New Apparatus Design for High Temperature (up to 950 °C) Quasi-Elastic Neutron Scattering in a Controlled Gaseous Environment

Amal al-Wahish is a former student in Dr. David Mandrus‘ research group in the department of Material Science and Engineering. Her doctoral dissertation studied Phosphate Proton Conductors at elevated temperature using Quasi-Elastic Neutron Scattering. The operation of these proton conductors needs a sample environment running at temperatures exceeding 300 °C. At that time, the available sample environment for experiments at Backscattering Spectrometer Spallation Neutron Scattering could only accommodate temperatures well below that.[expander_maker more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

Amal had two choices: to either change her dissertation topic or design and build a new apparatus. She took up the challenge of building the apparatus. Working together with a brilliant ORNL staff (D. Armitage, N. Jalarvo , B. Hill, and R. Mills), the apparatus was built in 2011 and has been in use since that time at ORNL for the purpose of conducting quasi-elastic neutron scattering studies. It is a versatile system capable of studying neutron dynamics in situ under operational conditions similar to solid oxide fuel cells with the ability to control humid and dry gas flow under various environmental conditions and over a wide range of temperatures reaching up to 950 °C, enabling the user to measure chemical, dynamical and physical changes in situ. The setup has proven especially effective in studies of high temperature Quasi-elastic neutron scattering, where it reveals information about microscopic scale under dry and humid conditions, but the apparatus can potentially be used in many different neutron experiments with suitable sample can material.

In Fall 2015, Amal al-Wahish, David Mandrus, and their colleagues at ORNL and Berry college published an article in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments (Vol.86, Issue 9) with the title “A new apparatus design for high temperature (up to 950 °C) quasi-elastic neutron scattering in a controlled gaseous environment.”

The team included Amal al-Wahish, D. Armitage, U. al-Binni, B. Hill, R. Mills, N. Jalarvo, L. Santodonato, K. W. Herwig, and D. Mandrus.


UT-ORNL Breakthrough Aims to Improve Tech Gadgets, TVs

Phones, tablets, computers, and even televisions use touchscreen technology, which relies on substances that contain rare and costly elements. Now, thanks to a breakthrough led by UT’s College of Engineering and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, that problem could soon be in the past.