Skip to content

Materials Science and Engineering

Materials Science and Engineering

Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is focused on the improvement of existing materials and the discovery of new materials. MSE can often be thought of as a conduit between the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, earth and planetary sciences) along with math and all engineering disciplines. An example of this is the area of biomaterials (hip implants, dental implants, drug delivery, transplant material) that bridges biology and biomedical engineering.

During the four weeks, students will focus on MSE in the afternoons and as small groups will conduct three different hands-on laboratories, each lasting three days. These laboratories will include synthesizing and processing of a spinel ceramic (with an atomic structure that can accommodate many different chemical compositions resulting in a variety of commercial applications), building polymer components using 3D printing and examining the component’s mechanical integrity, and deforming a metal alloy (brass) and examining how the mechanical properties change. One of the important cornerstones of MSE is the relationship between structure, at various scales including macro, micro, nano, and atomic, and the resulting properties. These labs are designed to emphasize this relationship.

In addition to the hands-on activities, the students will hear seminars from several faculty in MSE highlighting their personal research areas. These seminars have been chosen to illustrate the breadth of MSE and include topics such as computation materials science, studying mechanical properties at the nanoscale, how MSE impacts the semiconductor industry, and “listening” to materials to determine physical properties. There will also be lectures on various characterization techniques (electron microscopes!), statistical analysis, advanced Excel techniques, keeping track of references, data mining, drawing atomic crystal structures, creating high quality graphics, etc.

Additionally, there will be three local plant/laboratory tours scheduled that complement the laboratory experiences. A tour of the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will complement the laboratory on spinels and a tour of the additive manufacturing capabilities at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) will complement the 3D printing laboratory.

Based on their laboratory experiences each team will choose a laboratory that they want to expand upon and suggest follow-on research (experiments, computational, or literature reviews). The student teams will be given some time in the final week work experiments, etc. during the afternoons but will be expected to work as groups on preparing posters, describing their results of their laboratory experience and follow-on research, in the evenings. The MSE GSE portion will conclude with poster presentation event with students presenting their findings.

Course Requirements

The requirements to pass this course are:

  • Completion of a test prior to and after the four-week session.
  • Four one-page group lab reports.
  • Active participation in experiments and lectures.
  • Poster Presentation on assigned experiment (teams of 2).

Credit Hours: 3

Course Instructors

Kurt E. Sickafus, Course Director

Dr. Sickafus has been an experimental researcher in the field of materials science for about 34 years; investigating structure and properties in metals, polymers, and ceramics, in bulk, thin-film, and composite forms. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1978 (BA in Physics & Mathematics), and he received his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University in 1985 (Materials Science & Engineering). Dr. Sickafus also worked as a postdoctoral research assistant in the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge (1985-1987) and as a staff member at I.B.M. (1987-88) before joining Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1989. He worked as a Staff Scientist at Los Alamos for 22 years before moving to the U. of Tennessee in 2011.

Dr. Sickafus’ primary experimental expertise is in electron microscopy, with an emphasis on transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), and analytical electron microscopy (AEM) techniques. His research interests are primarily in the areas of crystallography, radiation damage effects, and microstructure of materials. Currently, his research is concentrated on the radiation damage behavior of oxides with structures ranging from spinel to ilmenite to pyrochlore to fluorite to perovskite.


Matthew Cothrine, Teaching Assistant

Matthew Cothrine is a first-year PhD student in the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Matthew received his M.S. degree in MSE from the University of Central Florida in December 2017. He is a graduate teaching assistant for the undergraduate-level Principals of Materials laboratory courses and is excited to join the 2019 Governor’s school staff! He works in Dr. Mandrus’ research group focusing on novel material synthesis, specifically investigating growth and discovery of spin liquid candidates. He also works with neutron diffraction techniques for material characterization. In his free time, he enjoys reading, playing video games, and playing with his ferrets.

Brianna Musicó, Teaching Assistant

Brianna Musicó is a fourth year PhD student in the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Ms. Musicó received her B.S. degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Tennessee in August of 2016 and her M.S degree in December 2018. She has a graduate teaching assistant for the undergraduate-level Principles of Materials Laboratory courses as well as a merged undergraduate/graduate level Defects in Crystals course. She was a teaching assistant for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Governor’s School for The Sciences and Engineering and is looking forward to it again this year! Her current work is under the direction of Dr. Veerle Keppens and Dr. David Mandrus focusing on High Entropy Oxide (HEO) ceramic synthesis, specifically with perovskite and spinel systems. She also works with elastic moduli property determination through Resonant Ultrasound Spectroscopy. In her free time she enjoys cooking, reading, gymnastics, hanging out with her cats and re-finishing furniture.



The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.