Spreadsheet Applications For Materials Science

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Spreadsheets have the potential to improve the teaching of the use of computers in solving engineering problems. Ideally, they would be integrated into existing courses, rather than teaching separate courses on spreadsheets. If this is done then homework assignments could be made much richer and their use in the laboratory courses would be invaluable. The author is developing a series of tutorials that address a wide range of materials science topics. The spreadsheet exercises in each tutorial start with simple calculations and progress to project-level calculations such as modeling ionic bonding or processing data from experiments. Spreadsheet skills developed include performing simple and complex calculations, importing and exporting data, graphing data, using the numerical tools, and producing attractive, presentable and reusable spreadsheet applications.

With spreadsheets already on practically every home and school personal computer implementation of these tutorials can be done at little or no cost, a definite plus for smaller schools, and they will even allow the student to complete these assignments at home, reducing the need for schools to set up computer laboratories, a plus for high-enrollment courses. Introduction When the pocket calculator first appeared in the classroom no one talked about technology in the classroom. In many cases it was reluctantly allowed in and eventually, after it seemed that nearly everyone had one, exams, homework and other assignment changed to accommodate and even take advantage of this new, personal, high technology device.

Computers are similar in many respects. They have been on our desktops for over 20 years are have only recently began to become an integral part of our curricula. While many of the recent high-profile implementations center around the Internet, multimedia and other interactive software, spreadsheets, which have been on our desktop computers since the beginning, offer a low cost avenue for developing richer and more engaging assignments, much like the pocket calculator did. Like pocket calculators, they can take the tedium out of the number crunching, allowing the student to concentrate on the problem at hand. The spreadsheet’s easy learning curve, versatility and ubiquitousness, make them ideal for introducing the students to the use of computers to solving engineering problems.