Nanotechnology is a promising field for advancement, but not many engineering students graduate with a sufficient understanding of nanotechnology and its potential. The purpose of this study is to understand whether first-year engineering (FYE) students can find connections between nanotechnology and their potential engineering field of study. The following research questions guide this study:
1. What engineering fields of study do students investigate in their nanotechnology-related assignment?
2. Do students demonstrate awareness of nanotechnology related to their intended field?
This study was completed at a large Midwestern U.S. university, where all engineering students are required to enter through the FYE Program. In Spring 2013, 619 FYE students within 6 sections completed two nanotechnology-based projects in teams. Prior to the projects, students were to individually investigate nanotechnology and its applications in their intended engineering field. The students' responses for this context setting assignment were qualitatively analyzed for the 537 students that completed the assignment.
Each student focused on one field of study; their responses are shown in the attached figure. The figure shows how many students discussed each of the fields and how many related nanotechnology to their intended field. Although some students did not focus on their intended field of study, they still demonstrated nanotechnology awareness of its impacts on engineering more broadly or in other fields. At least one student for every field of study represented was able to connect their field of study to nanotechnology applications and its potential. This opportunity for students to explore nanotechnology was as an effective method for enabling students to improve their understanding and/or awareness of nanotechnology and its potential in engineering. This study will be continued by investigating multidisciplinary teaming within the nanotechnology-based design projects.
Rodgers, K. J., Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Madhavan, K. First-year engineering students explore nanotechnology in engineering. Published proceedings of the 41st SEFI Conference, Leuven, Belgium.
(The draft copy of this paper is attached. There is also a slide attached that summarizes some key ideas of the paper.)