Monday, February 14, 2011

On Materials Science, Steampunk and Your Grandmother

I recently attended a book signing by my favorite steam punk author, Cherie Priest (@cmpriest).  The question of how to define steampunk came up, and she raised an excellent point: "When I was a goth, I could say to my Grandma 'You know Dracula?  Like that.' Steampunk doesn't have that".

Materials science needs that too. Even other engineers aren't really sure what it is.  For half of my grandparents, it's a trivial problem, as academics with friends in the field. My other grandparents, however, are farmers. I can explain partial concepts, especially anything that can be related to tractors.  But there's not a great general description.

Part of my goal in blogging is to get better at explaining what I do without jargon, to develop metaphors so that when I end up in front of a class of undergrads, they can make the connection to the material. Or so I can explain my research to people outside of my sub-field.

The recent NOVA miniseries, Making Stuff, was an awesome first step. But most high school kids, trying to find a school, and a major, aren't going to have watched it. I originally thought I wanted to be a chemical engineer, but the more I read about it, the more it didn't describe what I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to have family members who knew what MSE was.

Any suggestions for a new MSE catchphrase?

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