Successful products require Engineers and Designers to collaborate, often around materials choices: balancing performance with aesthetics for the ideal product experience. Engineering curricula don’t always recognise the importance of this connection. Engineers and Designers get only a limited understanding of each other’s work, while Materials is often an under-appreciated subject. Cambridge Engineering Professor, Mike Ashby, published the book “Materials and Design” in 2009 and has worked on several learning tools to inspire Design and Engineering students about each other’s subjects, and about materials. But it has proved hard to marry the quantitative engineering perspective with descriptions of aesthetics that are often variable and culturally-dependent.
The final talk at the 2nd Asian Materials Education Symposium, delivered by Mr Gilbert Teo of Singapore Polytechnic, centred on the benefits of peer-based learning and, more specifically, re-designing a course to encourage students to learn from each other. This method of learning moves away from the conventional student vs teacher stereotype and explores the role of a facilitator and how we can incorporate technology. Not only was this a reflective way to end the highly successful Symposium, but it sparked a great deal of discussion. With students acting more like consumers and wanting the best learning experiences from their education, engaging them is more important than ever.
A Silly Mistake?
No one set out to develop Silly Putty: it was a novelty by-product during research aiming at new silicone elastomers to replace scarce rubber. In 1943, an engineer at General Electric, James Wright, was working in the New Haven laboratory when he accidentally dropped boric acid into silicone oil: the result was a bouncing silicone putty. The new material stretched more than rubber, even at high temperatures, but it also had some more interesting and unusual properties. Over long timescales or at high temperatures it flowed like a fluid. But at shorter timescales it bounced and behaved like an elastic solid. GE started marketing it, but it only really took off when the novelty value of this new material caught the attention of Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant. He bought the rights from GE, and started marketing his ‘solid liquid’ as ‘Silly Putty®’.