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Evolving small structures

Zhigang Suo's picture

I taught this course at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in Winter 1994, Winter 1995, Spring 1996; at Princeton, Spring 2003; at Harvard, Spring 2004.  The notes posted here are those distributed to the class in Spring 2004.


Engineering 242r. Solid Mechanics: Advanced Seminar

Zhigang Suo

Half course (Spring 2004)

The mechanics of evolving small structures. Examples include self-assembled quantum dots, monolayer island arrays, and electromigration. The study follows the conceptual flow from atomic processes, to mesoscopic phenomena, and to engineering implications.

Prerequisite: familiarity with either applied mechanics or materials science.

Instructor: Zhigang Suo

Time: Tuesday and Thursday, 10-11:30 am

Place: Pierce Hall 307

The course integrates aspects of rate processes, thermodynamics, and applied mechanics to model evolving structures. Large-scale phenomena include cavitation, grain growth, electromigration, stress-induced diffusion, and electric field-induced molecular assembly. The course demonstrates the flow of ideas from molecular processes to large-scale phenomena, and emphasizes modeling skills as opposed to detailed analysis. Students learn to identify robust features of a phenomenon—instabilities, the length and the time scale, competing forces and rates, and dimensionless groups.

Prerequisite: familiarity with either applied mechanics or materials science.

Grading: weekly homework (60%). Three-hour, close-book final (40%).

No textbooks. Typed notes for most lectures. Journal articles.

Purpose of the Course

Scientists have acquired many powerful tools over centuries. A tool was invented by Newton for one job. Laplace sharpened it. A third person, Einstein, later discovered that he had a new job done by combining the tool with another tool invented by Maxwell. The tools become popular and are efficiently delivered in universities. To save time and transmit more tools between generations, teachers like me have come up with this dubious idea: a lean and mean curriculum with no redundancy. However, there is a danger that students are given tools without an instruction to use them. Loaded in many courses are formalities and abstractions, chosen to save time by some, and to hide ignorance by others. Teachers have little time to show the excitement of using the tools to make a new discovery.

In this course, I'll use examples to show how complex phenomena are understood by integrating ideas that you've already learnt. Once you have uncovered a few things for yourself, maybe learning new ideas becomes a lot easier. Now you have a purpose in mind, a problem dear to your own heart, when you learn. I don’t really have a curriculum, or a definite set of material that I must cover. I hope to uncover a few things for you. We’ll make up a curriculum toward the end of the semester, so that the university will be happy about the course, and you feel that you have spent time wisely. For now, I’ll send you an outline of the course I taught in 2003 at Princeton. I know some topics better than others. If you know a topic better than I do, please speak up.

You’ll have to work. Feel free to discuss weekly assignments with anyone, but hand in your write up individually. The weekly assignments will contribute 60% of the grade. To reward people who really understand the weekly assignments, the final exam will draw heavily on the weekly assignments. The final exam will be close-book, and contribute 40% of the grade.

To bring life to the course, I'll choose topics dear to me at the moment. They may or may not be popular topics in mechanics of the day, and may have loose ends and uncertainties. But that doesn't matter so long as we enjoy them. If you find that you are distressed with the uncertainties, try to cope with it like a good scientist. Relax. Have fun.


Kejie Zhao's picture

There seemed fewer options for mechanics student this term, and Hopefully this excellent course will be lectured in next spring.

MichelleLOyen's picture

Hi Zhigang,

I read the list of topics covered here with interest in that they seem to be (as is often in mechanics) specific to certain engineering materials classes; given your nice recent work on hydrogels, if you ran this module again would you include new material on polymers and hydrogels?  I would think basic rubber elasticity concepts and certainly poroelasticity or diffusion-related phenomena would round out this list of topics nicely for a more broad set of base materials! 

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Michelle:  Thank you for pointing out this lack of soft materials in the mix of topics.  I'm teaching a course on advanced elasticity now, drawing on rubbers, gels, and polyelectrolytes.

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