A&M Center for Programs in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: Learning, Teaching and Research


Topic: New Perspectives on Nanoceramics and on Nanoeducation

Speaker: Professor Thomas Mason, Director for Higher Education and Degree Programs, National Center for Learning and Teaching of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Northwestern University

Date & Time: Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, 1:00 PM

Place: Room 140 VMC (Chambers Hall)



The large fraction of ions near grain boundaries in nanocrystalline electroceramics is known to impart advantageous transport properties, e.g., enhanced electronic and/or ionic conduction. However, the existing models for polycrystalline electroceramics, especially the venerable “brick layer” model (BLM), become invalid in the nanocrystalline regime. We have developed a revised BLM that is capable of describing electrical/dielectric behavior over the entire spectrum of grain sizes, from microscale to nanoscale. The modified BLM can successfully extract local properties from AC-impedance measurements on nanoceramics. Application is made to nano-YSZ (yttria-stabilized zirconia), which may be employed in intermediate temperature solid oxide fuel cells. The lessons learned (size-dependent behavior in the nanoregime) allow us to segue nicely into the unique challenges of nanoeducation. The NCLT is exploring “best practices” for introducing nanoconcepts in 7-16 classrooms. In particular, we have been identifying the essential key concepts, or “big ideas,” that students need to know to master nanoscience/nanoengineering principles. Based upon these essentials, we can make useful recommendations about the nanocontent essential for degree programs in nanoscale science and engineering education. Ongoing research projects in learning and teaching at the undergraduate level will also be discussed. In particular, we are exploring “threshold concepts” that enable students to learn nanoscale science and engineering.



Professor Thomas O. Mason is Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. His degrees are from the Pennsylvania State University (B.S. in Ceramic Science) and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD in Materials Science and Engineering). He currently serves as co-Principal Investigator and Director of Higher Education and Degree Programs for the NSF-funded National Center for Learning and Teaching (NCLT), headquartered at Northwestern. The Center focuses on nanoscale science and engineering education of students in grades 7-16, being dedicated to capacity-building and learning science research. On the technical side, Professor Mason has an active research group in the area of electroceramics, including solid state ionics (e.g., advanced nano-electrolytes for solid oxide fuel cells) and transparent electronics (e.g., enhanced transparent conducting oxides, or TCOs, for solar photovoltaics). He has authored more than 250 technical papers in the areas of electroceramics, defect chemistry, phase equilibria, electrocomposites (including cement-based materials), impedance spectroscopy, and nanoceramics, and was named a highly cited researcher in the materials field by I.S.I. (Web of Science). He is a highly decorated teacher, having won department, school, and campus-wide honors, and was named the Outstanding Educator of the Year by the American Ceramic Society in 2006.

Refreshments will be served at 12:45 PM

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