Materials In Today's World

MatSE 81 Syllabus


MATSE 81: Materials in Today's World

Fall 2023

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve as our course "contract." Also, we have created a FAQ that will answer additional logistical questions you may have. 


Ron Redwing

Dr. Ronald D. Redwing
Senior Lecturer
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
N156 Millennium Science Complex
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University

  • E-mail:
  • Office Hours: By appointment. My experience with this course is that it is extremely rare that anyone drops in to visit me in my office. Typically I answer questions from students through Canvas mail or direct email. However, when an email will not suffice, I try to reserve W 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM and Th 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM on my calendar for MatSE 81 Zoom conferences. I ask that you contact me ahead of time to reserve a time for us to set up a Zoom conference.

NOTE: I will read and respond to e-mail at least once per day during the work week (Monday through Friday). You may see me online occasionally on the weekends, but please don't count on it!

Class Support Services

Class Support Services Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Overview

Description: A survey of the properties, manufacture, and uses of polymers, ceramics, and metals in today's world with emphasis on modern developments and new materials. This course presents the basic science and technology of materials to non-science students. The course concentrates on ‘Materials in Today's World’ but frames the discussion in a relevant historical framework. Course topics are built around ‘The Central Paradigm of Materials Science and Engineering;’ which links processing to structures to properties to performance. First, students are introduced to the basic concepts of metals and non-metals, and to a fundamental understanding of The Periodic Table. From these conceptual ideas, ceramics and electronic materials are rationalized on the basis of their electronic structures. The properties of materials, e.g., mechanical, thermal, electronic, and photonic, are developed directly from the structural knowledge of the materials classifications. The concept of materials design is introduced with respect to the properties of density, melting point, and hardness. Current practices for processing and manufacturing of materials are compared with methods that were employed in antiquity. This course meets the Bachelor of Arts: Natural Sciences (BA) and General Education: Natural Sciences (GN) Penn State requirements.

Prerequisites and concurrent courses: None

Course Objectives: The overall goal of this course is to teach you a bit about materials science and engineering. The course is designed to help navigate in a technology-based, twenty-first century. The course is based on some fundamental principles from physics and chemistry, but is designed for the non-scientist, non-engineer. The goal is to understand materials, their properties, and their applications. Part of this involves discussing the advances in materials science that have occurred throughout history around the world.

When you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:

  • Demonstrate core knowledge of materials science and engineering.
  • Integrate terms and concepts with materials in the modern world.
  • Articulate materials history from the origin of materials usage by humans to the utilization of materials in today’s world.
  • Discuss recyclability/disposability issues relative to the three primary classifications of solid materials and composite materials.
  • Judge which materials are most likely to be promising candidates for utilization, given the primary or advanced material classifications of a list of candidate materials and design selection criteria.


On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits. I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different from a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us as well as with your fellow students. Specific learning objectives for each lesson and project are detailed within each lesson. The overall class schedule is published below, while the detailed calendar for this semester can be found on Canvas (the course management system used for this course). Course information will be sent out via the course Canvas. In addition to the recommendation that you check the course on Canvas regularly, it is also recommended that you have the course announcements forwarded from Canvas to your Penn State email account. 

Required Course Materials

Required textbook: The course utilizes a customized e-book that can be purchased for $40.12 from the publisher at VitalSource

Required videos: The course utilizes materials documentary videos. The Penn State Library has licensed a number of the required videos, however, four of the videos (Making Stuff: Stronger, Making Stuff: Cleaner, Making Stuff: Smarter, and Making Stuff: Smaller) used in the course are no longer available for licensing by the Penn State Library. Currently, they are available on for $2.99 each.

Online lesson content: All other materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk.

Reserve materials: This course uses library Electronic Reserves (E-Reserves). More information about how to access this content is available in the course orientation.

Assistance with textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, please contact your academic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 222 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.


This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

  • Lesson Quiz (12): This weekly untimed quiz will be multiple-choice, true or false, and/or matching, and will evaluate your understanding of the textbook readings and real-world materials applications highlighted in the weekly video each week. Feel free to collaborate with your classmates (or tutors) on these quizzes.
  • Exam (3): These timed, 60 - 90 minutes exams can include multiple-choice, true or false, short answer, and/or matching questions, and will evaluate your understanding of the textbook readings, online materials, and real-world materials applications. You are permitted to use any materials you need while you take your exams, but due to the timed nature of the exams, I would caution you that extensive research to locate answers during the exam is not likely to be a successful strategy if used for many of the questions. You are to take your exams individually and not help each other. I have high standards of academic integrity and will not tolerate cheating of any kind, especially since all the evaluations are open-book. In addition, your answers are expected to be in 'your own words'. Plagiarizing large sections of your textbook or other outside material is not acceptable and would typically result in an academic sanction which would typically range from a zero on the exam to receiving an 'F' in the course.

It is important that your work is submitted in the proper format to the appropriate Canvas Assignment by the designated due date. I strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete these assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You'll learn more, do better...and be happier! Due dates for all assignments are posted on the course calendar in Canvas.


Grades will be determined by your performance on twelve quizzes and three exams. The relative weights used for determining your overall grade are included in the table below.

Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.
Assignment Percent of Grade
Lesson Quizzes 40%
Exam #1 20%
Exam #2 20%
Exam #3 20%

I will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your grades. You can see your grades in the gradebook, too. Overall course grades will be determined by the following formula:

Total percentage (%) = (Earned Total of 12 Lesson Quizzes)/(Overall Total of 12 Lesson Quizzes) x 40 + (Your Total Exam Score)/300 x 60

Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentage
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - <93 %
B+ 87 - <90 %
B 83 - <87 %
B- 80 - <83%
C+ 77 - <80 %
C 70 - <77 %
D 60 - <70 %
F < 60 %
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Curving, Rounding, and Extra Credit

The instructor of the course does his best to prepare evaluation materials that are clear and at an appropriate level for the course. However, despite my best intentions, an unclear question or error in coding of a question does sometimes make it into the assessments, which usually results in credit being granted for the question for those effected.

Typically, the grade cutoffs posted above are used to convert the numerical scores of Canvas to Penn State letter grades. Note: Canvas uses grade cutoffs, so a 92.9999% is an A- and not rounded up to an A, and so on for all of the cutoffs. While I do not expect to apply a curve in this course this semester, I reserve the right to adjust the percentages ranges for letter grades (i.e., curve the course) to provide, if, in my judgment, an adjustment would be a more accurate representation of the earned grades. In no case will the ranges be raised and any adjustment, if any, will be applied to all students and only determined after all course materials have been evaluated.

In no cases will there be any extra credit, there is plenty of work already incorporated into the course for a valid assessment of each student's effort and performance over the course of the semester.

Late Policy

All course-related assignments, quizzes, and exams should be completed by the assigned date and time, however, if the assignment is still available for completion on Canvas the assignment can be completed for full credit. Make-up work will only be allowed under the following circumstances: (1) if prearranged with the instructor; (2) if the result of a documented emergency; or (3) if the result of a significant, prolonged, documented illness. Other excuses are not accepted for late work. Only significant, prolonged illnesses are a valid excuse for late work, and verification from a health care provider is required.

MATSE 81 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is twelve lessons in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. See the Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates. The time frames shown below reflect a 15-week spring or fall semester. Summer semesters are compressed into 12 weeks.

NOTE: See the Canvas Syllabus or Calendar for a full semester calendar of events. Please note that the summer semester is only 12 weeks in length.

Weekly Schedule
Week & Topic Student Activities (due 11:59 pm, est) of date indicated on Canvas calendar Required Videos & Recordings
Week 1, Orientation
Lesson 1: Materials Classification
Course Orientation Quiz
Lesson 1 Quiz
Read Syllabus, FAQ, and other parts of website needed for completion of Course Orientation Quiz
Read lesson 1 of course website
Read chapter 1 of textbook
Watch Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors
Week 2, Lesson 2:
Economic, Environmental, and Societal Issues
Lesson 2 Quiz Read lesson 2 of course website
Read chapter 2 of textbook
Watch Making Stuff: Cleaner
Week 3, Lesson 3:
Atomic Structure and Bonding
Lesson 3 Quiz Read lesson 3 of course website
Read chapter 3 of textbook
Watch chapters of Hunting the Elements
Watch TED-Ed video on Atoms
Watch TED-Ed video on Periodic Table
Week 4, Lesson 4:
Mechanical Properties
Lesson 4 Quiz Read lesson 4 of course website
Read chapter 4 of textbook
Watch Making Stuff: Stronger
Week 5, Exam #1 Exam covers Lessons 1 - 4 Study lessons 1-4
Week 6, Lesson 5:
Structure and Applications of Metals
Lesson 5 Quiz Read lesson 5 of course website
Read chapters 5 & 6 of textbook
Watch Metal: The Secret Life of Materials
Week 7, Lesson 6:
Types and Application of Metal Alloys
Lesson 6 Quiz Read lesson 6 of course website
Read chapters 7 & 8 of textbook
Watch The Secrets of the Viking Sword
Week 8, Lesson 7:
Structure and Applications of Ceramics
Lesson 7 Quiz Read lesson 7 of course website
Read chapters 9 & 10 of textbook
Watch Ceramics: The Secret Life of Materials
Week 9, Lesson 8:
Structure and Applications of Polymers
Lesson 8 Quiz Read lesson 8 of course website
Read chapters 11 & 12 of textbook
Watch Plastic: The Secret Life of Materials
Week 10, Exam #2 Exam covers Lessons 5 - 8 Study lessons 5-8
Week 11, Lesson 9:
Types and Application of Composites
Lesson 9 Quiz Read lesson 9 of course website
Read chapter 13 of textbook
Watch Monuments to Mankind: The Impact and Influence of Concrete on Civilization
Week 12, Lesson 10:
Synthesis, Fabrication, and Processing
Lesson 10 Quiz Read lesson 10 of course website
Read chapter 14 of textbook
Watch Raw to Ready: Bombardier
Week 13, Lesson 11:
Advanced Materials: Biomaterials and Smart Materials
Lesson 11 Quiz Read lesson 11 of course website
Read chapter 15 of textbook
Watch Making Stuff: Smarter
Week 14, Lesson 12:
Advanced Materials: Semiconductors and Nanomaterials
Lesson 12 Quiz Read lesson 12 of course website
Read chapter 16 of textbook
Read Chapters 32 & 33 of Thrower
Watch Making Stuff: Smaller
Week 15, Exam #3 Exam covers lessons 9 - 12 Study lessons 9 - 12

Course Policies

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.