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New Materials Science Minor Offered at SMCM

A new course, MTSC 301, appeared in the course catalog at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) in the spring of 2017. This course is the introduction to materials science, a new minor offered at SMCM that combines physics and chemistry disciplines.   

The materials science minor has been a partnership between the physics, chemistry, and biochemistry departments at SMCM. Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Troy Townsend, submitted the proposal for the materials science minor in the summer of 2015.

According to the course website, materials science is “an interdisciplinary field combining physics (fundamental laws of nature), chemistry (interactions of atoms) and biology (how life interacts with materials) to elucidate the inherent properties of basic and complex systems.” The required course for the minor include general physics or fundamentals of physics I and II, organic chemistry, quantum mechanics, and introduction to materials science.

Dr. Townsend graduated from SMCM in 2007 with degrees in chemistry and biology. He knew his interests were in renewable energy, specifically solar energy. He began looking at Ph.D programs to work with solar energy and found that most of the programs involved chemical engineering, materials science and electrical engineering, but his background was only in chemistry. He ended up pursuing his Ph.D at University California, Davis, where he joined Dr. Frank Osterloh in making nanocrystals that split water into hydrogen gas and oxygen gas when exposed to the sun.

Dr. Townsend says SMCM gave him a foundation in chemistry, but it took him longer to develop the skills needed for materials science on his own. The idea for a materials science major came from his own experiences, “thinking back, if I had an opportunity to get a materials science minor or do research in materials science, I would have absolutely done that. That’s what I had in mind for this, to offer an opportunity for students to get exposed to this new field that St. Mary’s had never offered before because it’s so important to me and to the world to have this ability to take our liberal arts well-rounded ideas and figure out how to apply them to solve problems.”

Barry Liang was one of two students who graduated in spring 2017 with a minor in materials science. He is currently working towards his Ph.D in bioengineering at University of Maryland, College Park. Liang decided to pursue the materials science minor to “get a better understanding on properties of different materials and how different materials interact with each other.”

Liang worked with Dr. Townsend on his St. Mary’s Project (SMP), which worked on “creating a drug delivery system using biodegradable polymer nanoparticles for cancer therapeutics.” His project focused on using nanoparticles to deliver drugs, which increases the amount of the cancer drug that can reach the target sight.

Liang stated that the minor program could improve by offering more electives, and more “funding for different materials characterization instruments so students can learn how to use them.” He added that a strong materials science program “may attract future prospective students if we have another strong STEM program.”

Dr. Townsend added that with a new materials science minor, he hopes it “will attract students and offer them opportunities that they wouldn’t normally have had.” As for the future of the program, Dr. Townsend hopes that as the minor develops and becomes more popular, “we can hire the faculty to support it and we’ll start offering more classes and other classes to support it.”

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