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Materials science community support for teaching sustainability

A Correction to this article was published on 08 September 2021

This article has been updated

Highlights

The materials science community has expressed a strong desire to include sustainability in the educational experience. There are opportunities to include these topics throughout the curriculum and a need to make educational resources widely available.

Abstract

Materials play a key role in enabling technological and economic development. With growing need to adopt a sustainable development approach across technical fields, it is useful to review the current state of teaching sustainability pertaining to Materials Science education. Using two sets of direct interviews with a subset of Materials Research Society (MRS) members and a survey of the entire member community, we present specific observations on the perception towards sustainability, and the gaps and impediments in teaching sustainability at undergraduate and graduate levels. There is strong interest in the materials community towards incorporating sustainability into the educational experience, and opportunities for developing and disseminating a robust set of educational resources (case studies, etc.). There is also a need for developing definitions and topics that emphasize both integration of general sustainability topics as well as basic sustainability technical principles. Based on the analysis, specific recommendations were made to the MRS and the materials science community in general in order to advance sustainability education.

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Change history

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank all of those who assisted in data collection for this study, especially the team from the University of Central Florida, Golareh Jalilvand, Meryl Wiratmo, Lauren Whetstone, and Sudipta Seal. They would also like to thank Richard Souza for his support.

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Correspondence to Jeremy Theil.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Appendix

Appendix

Topics

F19 survey topic choices

  1. 1.

    Designing for sustainable applications

  2. 2.

    Designing for recycling and reuse

  3. 3.

    Designing without toxic or hazardous substances

  4. 4.

    Improving process efficiency

  5. 5.

    Improving materials performance

  6. 6.

    Life-cycle assessment

  7. 7.

    Techno-economic analysis

  8. 8.

    Environmental remediation

  9. 9.

    Social equity

Individual topic responses

  1. 1.

    Interconnectedness

  2. 2.

    Sustainable energy production and storage

  3. 3.

    Sourcing of materials in a sustainable manner

  4. 4.

    Renewable energy and carbon emission-free energy

  5. 5.

    Recycling existing waste

  6. 6.

    Primary resource availability/sustainability

  7. 7.

    Open access to publicly funded research

  8. 8.

    Materials with low emissions from production

  9. 9.

    Materials with low CO2 footprint

  10. 10.

    Manufacturing issues associated with recycling and biodegradable materials

  11. 11.

    Managing materials over its life cycles, understanding toxicity, including low-dose, compound effects

  12. 12.

    Exploiting biosynthesis to replace unsustainable manufacturing processes

  13. 13.

    Environmental impact of materials waste

  14. 14.

    Designing for energy harvesting

  15. 15.

    Circular economy

  16. 16.

    Carbon neutral energy production

  17. 17.

    Biologically derived materials

  18. 18.

    Balance of cost, emissions, and water usage. There will be tradeoffs and a framework to make decisions is needed.

  19. 19.

    Social equity, which is a poorly defined political construct, is not relevant.

  20. 20.

    Sustainability concepts are already integral to engineering disciplines.

Impediments to teaching

F19 survey impediments to teaching choices

  1. 1.

    No room in current curriculum

  2. 2.

    Low priority to Faculty

  3. 3.

    Not adequately covered in textbook

  4. 4.

    Inadequate course materials

  5. 5.

    Limited access to software or other practical tools

  6. 6.

    Not knowledgeable on the topic

  7. 7.

    Does not apply to my courses

Individual responses for impediments to teaching

  1. 1.

    Not all the courses taught adequately to apply it.

  2. 2.

    In some countries it is not currently seen as a fundamental topic.

  3. 3.

    Sustainability is and has been an integral part of engineering, so it does not need to be considered separately.

  4. 4.

    The definition of sustainability is hard to understand.

  5. 5.

    Time constraints in teaching.

  6. 6.

    Academic administration is interested in marquee sustainability topics (e.g., recycling) but not the complete picture such as chemical handling and waste.

  7. 7.

    Engineering students do not consider sustainability as a topic to include as it is not technical.

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Theil, J., Aguiar, I., Bandla, S. et al. Materials science community support for teaching sustainability. MRS Energy & Sustainability (2021). https://doi.org/10.1557/s43581-021-00009-5

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