Championing materials engineering at the Materials Olympics  – Faculty of Engineering

Championing materials engineering at the Materials Olympics 

two students working in a materials engineering lab.

If there is a need for materials, there’s a need for materials engineers.  

McMaster University has one of the few materials engineering programs in Canada despite a massive shortage in graduates to meet the demands of industry. In the Faculty of Engineering, innovative work is underway to develop sustainable steel production, push the frontiers of microscopy techniques and technology, create new biomaterials and harness the power of AI to solve materials creation and characterization challenges.  

To inspire the next generation of materials engineers to pursue a critical field of study, Materials Science and Engineering Department Chair Hatem Zurob and Assistant Professor Bryan Lee in collaboration with ASM Materials Camp Canada, spearheaded the inaugural Materials Olympics

Twenty-three teams of high school students from across Ontario traveled to McMaster’s campus on February 22 for four competitions through which they put their skills to the test using McMaster’s cutting-edge equipment all while gaining exposure to the multifaceted field of materials engineering. 

The competitions 

For a DomesDay challenge, teams brought domes they’d been constructing throughout the 2023 academic year at their high schools to try to stand the strength of a mechanical device used to crush them. Teams used materials like steel, wood and polylactic acid. 

3 students in a material engineering lab space.
Students presenting their dome to faculty judges.
a device that applies pressure to dome like structures to test their materials.
Setup of the dome being compressively loaded using equipment in the Materials Science & Engineering department. 

In a Resistance challenge, teams competed to choose the right combination of materials to meet certain electrical resistance requirements. “Choosing the right material for a specific design requirement is one of the main skills that any materials engineer has in their toolbox,” explains Lee. Teams were given a multimeter and certain resistance goals and were tasked with choosing the right combination and orientation of wires to meet these requirements. 

a group of students working with a resistance testing machine.
Students competing in the Resistance challenge

A Microscopy challenge tested competitors to find microscale logos etched into pennies. “The properties of materials rely on us understanding their corresponding structure,” explains Lee. “This structure extends all the way from the milli to micro to even the atomic scale.”  

Teams were able to use optical microscopes to investigate pennies that had microscale patterns etched on to them using Focus Ion Beam (FIB) Microscopy. Students visited the Canadian Center for Electron Microscopy (CCEM), one of the top electron microscopy facilities in North America located on campus, to learn how materials scientists and engineers use high-powered microscopes to understand the structure and properties of materials on the nano-to-atomic scale.  

2 students, one sitting on a chair and one standing, working on a computer that is on a desk.
Students competing in the Microscopy challenge.

Rounding out the quartet of challenges was Materials Trivia, where students’ knowledge was tested with questions related to material composition.

an auditorium full of students sitting in their seats.
Closing ceremonies of the Materials Olympics.
a group of students standing at the front of the room, in front of a projector that has a presentation on it, being awarded a large check by a professor.
Winners of the DomesDay Competition from Goderich District Collegiate Institute with Dr. Hatem Zurob & Dr. Bryan Lee. 
a group of students posing with a large check at the front of an auditorium style lecture hall.
DomesDay Material Innovativeness winners from Iroquois Ridge High School with Dr. Zurob & Dr. Lee.
a line up of students posing at the front of an auditorium style lecture hall.
Winners of the Materials Trivia contests. 

A victory for materials engineering 

“Observing high school students actively engaged and brimming with excitement about materials throughout the day of competition was truly rewarding,” says Zurob. “In a field teeming with possibilities critical to numerous industries such as manufacturing, infrastructure, technology, and biomedical, it’s imperative that we find innovative ways to connect aspiring materials engineers with the field of study.” 

Learn more about Materials Science and Engineering at McMaster and check out the full list of winning Material Olympians below. 

DomesDay Overall Winner: Goderich District Collegiate Institute 

DomesDay Material Innovativeness Winner: Iroquois Ridge High School 

Resistance Challenge Winner: Elsie MacGill Secondary School 

Microscopy Challenge Winner: Elsie MacGill Secondary School 

Materials Trivia Winners: Nora Frances Henderson Secondary School, Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School, Assumption College, Iroquois Ridge High School