Connecting with Students through Standards

2013 ASTM Professor of the Year Reflects on Engineering Education

In the fall of 2013, Haibin Ning was named the ASTM International 2013 Professor of the Year for his work teaching undergraduate and graduate students about ASTM International standards in lectures, assignments and lab work, in addition to using standards in his own research. Ning is a popular and enthusiastic educator as evidenced by the comments received from students in support of his nomination for the award. We asked Dr. Ning to write about his experiences with introducing students to the world of standards in his classes and labs.

In my teaching and research career, I have been fortunate to connect with students of varying backgrounds by using ASTM International standards to give them real-world design and testing experience.

I have been teaching undergraduate classes for a relatively short time, but have enjoyed the classes where standards have been used for the labs and hands-on testing. One good example is the engineering material lab, where comprehensive testing methods for various materials are introduced to the students. Different ASTM International standards are used such as D638, Test Method for Tensile Properties of Plastics; C158, Test Methods for Strength of Glass by Flexure; E18, Test Methods for Rockwell Hardness of Metallic Materials; and E1876, Test Method for Dynamic Young’s Modulus, Shear Modulus and Poisson’s Ratio by Impulse Excitation of Vibration, to name a few.

These standards cover different types of materials ranging from polymer and ceramic to metal and provide nondestructive and destructive testing methods. The students in this class are in the early stages of gaining experience in the engineering field, and having them utilize standards shows students where to find and how to use standards. The standards serve as a practical extension of the textbook content and class evaluations show that students love this class.

In addition to classes, I have been supervising undergraduate students from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. NSF REU programs have provided undergraduate students with the chance to experience research activities for about two and half months during each summer semester. These junior and senior students, with chemistry or physical science backgrounds, are usually from other universities and colleges and are seeking research experience. Some of them have not had any experience in using ASTM International standards, which are more applied in engineering fields.

In many cases, projects have been assigned to them that involve incorporating ASTM standards into their experiments. It is my responsibility to introduce the use of ASTM standards and teach the students to adopt the correct standards for their experiments. They have to write a report and present their project summary based on the data collected using ASTM standards. They learn a lot from the project and, more important, they are exposed to standards.

Senior design students have to complete capstone projects, and this also gives them a chance to put their new knowledge of standards into practical use before they graduate. They normally have to select different materials for their design based on their testing results. Standards are extremely important since they provide basic guidelines for material property comparisons. I have supervised several senior design groups in the last several years. In one example, ASTM standards were used to compare carbon fiber epoxy composite and aluminum for a proposed electric car frame structure.

Graduate students have been working in our research center on multiple projects that require collaboration with industries or governmental agencies. They have experience in using standards and are more focused on using certain standards in the area of composite materials for their research projects. They frequently need to collect data for their research. In my role, I have given them specific suggestions for using certain standards to achieve their engineering goals. We use various standards to guide mechanical testing and material characterization. We estimate that at least 50 ASTM International standards have been used.

In addition to training graduate students on choosing the most suitable standards for their research topics, I stress that other than using the standards, they should have the mindset that new procedures can be developed to complement the current standards. I suggest to them that they join ASTM International; the students are excited when they learn that there are scholarship opportunities and other benefits after they sign up for free student membership.

It has been quite a great experience for me to introduce students to using ASTM standards and assist them in their work. Doing the hands-on work of using ASTM test methods and other standards develops a strong connection with them and gives them what they need to advance in their careers.

Haibin Ning, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is ASTM International’s 2013 Professor of the Year. In addition to teaching courses in materials characterization and testing at UAB, manufacturing processes and finite element analysis, he manages the operation of the advanced materials testing and processing laboratory at the university and conducts research on fiber reinforced composite materials.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.