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Northwestern Center to Introduce Materials Science to Young Students

October 23, 2006 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Northwestern University a three-year, $6.9 million grant to create a national center for the University's Materials World Modules (MWM) program, a highly touted educational effort that introduces materials science topics to students in grades 7-12.

The MWM program, supported by the National Science Foundation since 1994, offers inquiry and design-based learning modules with many different topics, including sports materials, smart sensors and food packaging. Developed in close collaboration with science teachers, the modules have been used by more than 35,000 students across the country, supplementing existing science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula.

The new center, under the direction of Robert P.H. Chang, professor of materials science and engineering, will expand this existing program. The first priority is to establish a MWM network to systematically disseminate modules to all middle and high schools in each of three states -- New Jersey, Maryland and New Mexico -- and to reach more than 150,000 students during the next several years. MWM state centers are being established in each of these states to link with the national center at Northwestern, forming a national network. 

“Technology is progressing at a rapid pace worldwide, but fewer American students are pursuing careers in science and engineering,” said Chang, who created the MWM program. “We hope to spark students' interest in these fields by providing hands-on learning tools that encourage them to ask questions and design new products using what they've learned.”

The interdisciplinary modules are designed to take approximately two weeks, or 10 hours, of class time, but teachers can adapt them to fit their courses. Each module is designed to connect classroom science and math with real-world applications so that students will gain a better understanding of their environment.

Staff at the national center will work together to develop and publish five new modules. Each will focus on a topic that has global relevance to society, including renewable energy, environment and health. The center also will provide and support regional teacher training workshops and will establish an online information exchange and reference resource for MWM participants.

Materials science is the study of the characteristics and uses of various materials, such as metals, ceramics and plastics, that are employed in science and technology.

More information on the program can be found at <http://materialsworldmodules.org/>.

Topics: Research