Improving Solid Mechanics Education using Multi-Scale Material Characterization and Visualization

Yingtao Liu
Associate Professor
University of Oklahoma

Undergraduate solid mechanics courses can assist students to understand how materials deform under various loading conditions. Additionally, solid mechanics is the area interfacing with physics, chemistry, materials science, and even computational science and engineering. It has been well accepted as one of the fundamental topics that can benefit a broad range of engineering programs, including aerospace, civil, industrial, mechanical, and petroleum disciplines. However, most current solid mechanics education mainly emphasizes theoretical analyses with limited experimental demonstrations. Why materials have certain mechanical properties and physical performance are rarely discussed. The objective of this NSF IUSE project is to transform undergraduate solid mechanics education by employing the proposed multi-scale mechanical and material experimentation (M3E) module to assist undergraduate students in building the mental models that link solid mechanics concepts to materials’ structures and processing across multiple length scales. Two research questions are addressed in this project period: 1) how can M3E module deepen undergraduate students’ understanding of fundamental mechanics concepts and engage them in experiential learning? 2) How to evaluate the effectiveness of M3E on the development of student competencies to solve abstract and complex engineering problems in the materials and mechanics domain? The major research and professional development activities in this project have led to significant research outcomes in three areas: 1) design and development of the proposed M3E solid mechanics education module; 2) implementation of the developed M3E education module in undergraduate engineering courses to capture the students’ mental model representations of solid mechanics topics; 3) development of multi-scale solid mechanics education tools in virtual reality environments. The proposed M3E solid mechanics module has been well developed including the mechanical characterization images, videos, and mechanical performance of multiple traditionally manufactured and 3D printed materials, including cast and 3D printed aluminum alloys, 3D printed thermoplastics, fiber-reinforced polymer-matrix composites. All the materials were tested in at least two length scales including both microscopic and macroscopic length scales. Additionally, the developed M3D education module has been implemented six times in mechanical engineering junior and senior classes at the University of Oklahoma and Tuskegee University. More than 500 undergraduate students at the two universities have participated in the study. The students’ responses have been analyzed to evaluate the teaching outcomes and improve the education module and evaluation exams. Analytic results indicated that students with a good understanding of solid mechanics concepts significantly benefited from the developed M3E education module. Students with weak solid mechanics knowledge required additional explanations to understand the multi-scale material performance and relation to materials’ microstructures and properties. Thirdly, multi-scale material testing at both microscopic and macroscopic length scales has been developed in this project in the virtual reality environment. All the virtual reality testing experiments can be carried out by wearing a set of virtual reality goggles and gloves. The developed virtual reality experiments can assist students in virtually conducting solid mechanics experiments and understanding materials performance under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The research outcomes have enhanced mechanical education of underrepresented students in historically black colleges and universities.


Zahed Siddique, University of Oklahoma; Firas Akasheh, Tuskegee University; Gul Kremer, Iowa State University