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Or rather, how’d they do it?

That will be the question students will be trying to answer next week when the Department of Materials Science and Engineering welcomes budding detectives to its annual Materials Camp.

Reading like an episode of TV’s “CSI,” the camp will give high school students a chance to solve various clues to the identity of an unknown perpetrator based on the use of a wide array of techniques and tools used by materials scientists.

“We found early on that it helps them understand what materials science is all about if we can present it to them in a familiar way,” said Chris Wetteland, a lecturer in the department. “These kids know CSI, and they are familiar with the techniques they’ve seen on the show, but they don’t realize that a lot of those things are applicable to what we do in materials science. It’s an easy way to get them involved.”

Making use of concepts such as failure analysis and materials characterization, students will piece together a series of events, leading up to the revelation of who pulled off the mock crime, which they will be introduced to on their first day.

The first-time investigators—largely made up of students from eight Knoxville-area high schools—will be able to use high tech equipment in various locations throughout the College of Engineering, including multi-million dollar electron microscopes as well as infrared imagers.

“It’s good to give the students exposure to the real thing, to the kinds of things they would use if they were students here at UT,” said Wetteland. “They will be using everything from tensile tests to focused ion beams. It gives them a look at the classic characterization tools as well as cutting edge technology and instrumentation.”

While the scenario, complete with “late breaking news” at the end of each session, is designed as a fun way to get students involved in engineering, the science behind it is completely serious.

From polishing alloys, to gathering data on various compounds, to analyzing their findings before presenting them to the full group, students are cleverly, if entertainingly, introduced to basic fundamentals of materials science.

Students will be split into teams of five for the week, with each team being assigned two graduate student mentors, giving ample opportunity for interaction with faculty experts in the very thing they are studying in much more personal way than might be expected at a typical camp.

“The smaller size allows us to get them more hands-on experience than they normally would,” said Claudia Rawn, an associate professor in the department and director of the Center for Materials Processing. “That’s what they remember. It’s one thing to hear a talk on something, but once they actually go out and do it they tend to be more involved.”

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first camp, and as the camp has grown so has the impact it has had on UT in return. Roughly 10 percent of campers in the program’s history have gone on to attend UT Engineering at some point in their academic careers.

“Having students come in and see what our department is really all about is one of the positives for us,” said Kurt Sickafus, head of the department. “It’s a fun way for us to get exposure and for the kids to see some things and do some things that you just can’t get out of a brochure or a website.”

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,