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IIT Delhi Faculty Integrates Art for Holistic Education in Materials Engineering

A professor from IIT Delhi‘s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) has proposed a new project in technical education by combining academic papers with art forms in an effort to apply creative pedagogy.

Prof R Lakshmi Narayan of the DMSE experimented with his third-year undergraduate students by putting them into six teams of six individuals each. Each team was supposed to read and explain a technical paper from the journal Acta Materialia utilizing creative genres such as plays, music, interpretative dance shows, memes, and so on.

According to an official announcement from the institute, his new program, which combines art, technology, and soft skills, draws on a series of experiments aimed at infusing vibrancy into the usually perceived ‘research-heavy’ profession of Materials Engineering.

“This unlocks a creative mindset more easily than routine training. I was amazed to see that each team produced a technically brilliant performance and developed songs as well. The added advantage of this is that these performances cannot be plagiarized or generated by chatGPT,” said Narayan.

More crucially, these performances were made a part of the course curriculum and students were rated out of 20, which was then added to the marks for the subject ‘Mechanical Behaviour of Materials’.

The primary problem in providing technical education in subjects such as Materials Engineering is keeping students interested in academics. Though the primary solution is to create more employment in the industry, it is equally critical to develop job creators. This needs imagination, creativity, and intuition. Recognizing the difficulty of maintaining interest in technical education, Narayan was inspired by the distinctive character of materials science.

“Materials science is more than just equations and formulas; it is about understanding materials as if they have personalities, just like people.” To express this essence, I previously tasked my students with choosing any topic and performing based on it. The idea was to humanise materials and make the subject matter more relatable,” Narayan said. 

In addition to Narayan’s efforts, the department includes a cadre of faculty members who experiment with various teaching approaches. As part of his teaching technique, Prof Nirat Ray, for example, invites students to make brief elevator pitches on materials. Similarly, Prof Rajesh Prasad used springs and balloons to demonstrate theories about material deformation and failure.

“The varied teaching methods within the department aim to break away from the stereotypical image of technical education. By embracing creativity, soft skills, and diverse perspectives, we are preparing our students not only to excel in their field but also to adapt and innovate in an ever-changing professional landscape. Six faculty members of the department have already been recognised by the teaching excellence awards of the institute.” said Prof Rajesh Prasad, HoD, DMSE, IIT Delhi.

According to the institute’s press release, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering offers a holistic approach to technical education, questioning traditional conventions to develop a culture of curiosity, innovation, and critical thinking.

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