Materials Magic Show: Science is Up!

An initiative supported by the NSF DMR Ceramics – Grant 1609781 – 2015650
The objective of this program is to stimulate the interest of a broad audience in Materials Engineering by showing unexpected phenomenon that materials can do. From standing on wine glasses to design Captain American Shield, this partnership with MASC, the Materials Advantage Student Chapter, takes place every Picnic Day at UC Davis.

In the event, 30 minutes shows with materials demonstrations and lots of fun are performed to an audience of 500 people (families and Students at different levels visiting UC Davis).The demonstrations included: standing on wine glasses to demonstrate compressive strength, bending copper bars with different heat treatments to demonstrate defect effects on mechanical properties, LED lights in liquid nitrogen to demonstrate effect of temperature in the band gap, and a fantastic “Captain America” shield, composed of a plastic round shield covered with a thermal barrier (see picture). This year, the event has much more. This mix of fun and education inspire not only the audience, but the undergraduate students that got involved in the project, preparing materials, organizing the event, and performing a theatrical performance with interactive demonstrations. The success of this event lead to an invitation to perform it during the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department 50th Anniversary, with also a fantastic success.
NSF DMR 1609781 and MSE Department are greatly thanked for supporting this program.


Materials & You: Bringing Materials Concepts to Your Life

An initiative supported by the NSF DMR Ceramics – Grant 1055504
The objective of this program is to stimulate the interest of high-school and middle-school students in Materials Sciences by showing them how ‘cool’ they can be.
Traditionally, the field of Materials Science does not have many undergraduate students due to the limited access of K-12 students to the concept Materials Science and Engineering. This program was initially designed to inspire students from two alternative schools, Einstein Education Center and Midtown High School in Woodland, CA, by performing IN-CLASS experiments that show amazing things about materials, and teach the importance of Materials Engineers to the development of new technologies. Though designed for those alternative schools, the material is suitable for any K-12 environment. Kits for every activities were developed to be portable and using a limited budget, making it suitable for any interested teacher and school.

The dynamics of the classes is the following: The professor (or grad student) gives an exciting lecture using cartoon-like slides and stop at certain points of the slide-show to perform the activities. Below we make available for download the slides used in each activity and the list of materials and equipment needed along with some background on the goals of each activity. The experiments are to be performed at specific points of the slides, as marked with a golden star. This activity has been the focus of an article in the American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Oct/Nov 2013 edition, that can be read from:
These kits were successfully used in the above mentioned Woodland high-schools with the support of the Yolo County Office of Education in 2011, and will be used in an updated version in 2012/13 and so on. A very brief description of the kits is found below, but you can also find detailed information on each one in the American Ceramic Society website at:
NSF DMR CAREER 1055504 is greatly thanked for supporting this program.


Strong Materials: What is a strong material? In this activity we demonstrate that the term “strong” carries multiple meanings. We show a set of metal, plastic and glass cups. We show how each of them is strong in certain way. While a person can drop a plastic cup and it does not break, but not a glass one, a person can stand on a single glass cup without breaking because of its resistance to compression. The metal mugs will not break either, but can release impact energy by deforming. Students must drop the mugs and break them themselves. Mugs are cheap and fun to break. Students can drop mugs from as high as they can go, but must drop inside a plastic box, so it collects the pieces. Remember, safety is priority. You can use physics description to relate the energy needed to break of deform and the height it’s being dropped. In another experiment, we use paper clips (distributed among students) to show the concept of defects. By bending a clip you create defects, hardening the metal, that eventually becomes brittle and breaks. In the last activity, we use liquid nitrogen to freeze rubber and show how it can get brittle, just like the ceramic mug.
Do this activity yourself!


Smart materials: What if a material can perform things other than what they look like they can? In this activity, we show things related to how light can be “created”. We start with regular oil lamps, to explain concepts of capillarity. We then build an incandescent light by coiling a steel wire and powering with a variac. We can see that the light comes with heat and oxidation, setting energy “waste” concepts, and why glass + Ar protections are required. We break a light bulb to prove is the same as the coil we did. We might need lenses to have seeing the bulb coil. We explain tungsten as well. We show how a fluorescent light works. We can bring fluorescent powders and a UV lamp (optional) to see them shinning. A big LED lamp is shown. We show how a LED lamp lights instantaneously at certain voltage, while the incandescent light as an increasing shine, and related it to how it works. You need a DC power supply here. We show polarizing filters to explain how light can be controlled to create LCD and LED TVs. Finally we bring a solar cell used to power a rechargeable battery. These are cheap and can easily show the concept of a solar cell and how they’re the opposite of a LED.
Do this activity yourself!


Super materials: What are super materials? What can they do for you? In this class, we start with superconductors. We bring supermagnets to class and YBCO superconductor pellets. A superconductor train is assembled in class and the principles of levitation (gravitational vs. levitation energy) are discussed. The train is quite simple: the track is formed by supermagnets glued onto wood, and the train is a YBCO pellet wrapped in aluminum foil in the shape of a cup to hold the liquid nitrogen (liquid nitrogen is fun by it self, but we don’t play with it in this class). After that, we show them what a carbon fiber is and how it can be used to build cars, airplanes, etc. If you have parts to show as examples, that’s perfect; otherwise, get some epoxy resin, a sample of fiber and prepare yourself a piece for the demonstration. Do not use epoxy in class, as they have give off hazardous fumes. We show a memory shape alloy, Nitinol 40. This comes in wires, so you can force it to shape as a coil by using a ceramic tube the size of a pen as a mold and tightening the Nitinol wires with a metal clip. After heating up to 400°C for 15 min, the wire will have a new “memory” (do this in your lab, not in class). After cooling, stretch the coil made of Nitinol and use a torch to get it back to its original shape (do this in class!). Now we can explain what is going on with a phase transition schematics.
Do this activity yourself!