Course Syllabus


Course Description

This course explores the connections between the discovery of new materials such as ceramics, glass, concrete, metals, plastics, semiconductors etc. and the development of technologies and social structures worldwide. To see these connections, the course will fuse basic concepts in materials science and engineering with perspectives and methods from anthropology, history, English, classics, literature, and sociology. From ancient cities and Roman baths to steel foundries and Tupperware parties, to virtual communities and nanomedicine, students will learn how the physical properties of different materials intersect with cultural variables like gender, race, power/authority, religious beliefs, values, and financial and political systems to shape human civilization. By connecting lessons from the past to the inventions of cutting-edge materials, we will also explore the future social impacts of new materials in medicine, construction, transportation, clean energy, sports, and other areas. Engineers play important roles in changing or maintaining the structure and fabric of society. This course will explore how their materials-based technologies shape our society, as well as how society shapes engineering innovations.

 Course Objectives

This course will introduce students to how the discovery and manipulation of new materials impacted social structure both historically and in the present day, and how social and cultural forces that shape the development and use of materials and technologies from the past to future continue to affect our lives.  The is course will require students to:

  • examine the interrelated nature of society and materials engineering
  • demonstrate how materials can be manipulated to solve technical and sociocultural problems
  • explore how social and cultural systems shape how humans perceive the intrinsic physical properties of materials
  • discuss how the impact of materials on society varies with cultural and historical context
  • compare a variety of approaches from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences to examine and shape the impact of materials and degradation of materials on
  • apply basic skills in cross-disciplinary communication and argumentative
  • evaluate how disciplinary approaches and personal beliefs shape our understanding of
  • apply new course concepts through applied projects discussing future materials innovations and sustainability.

Required Reading

The Impact of Materials on Society: Discovering Human-Material Relationships from Yesterday to Tomorrow. Edited by: Sophia K. Acord and Kevin S. Jones. University Press of Florida: Gainesville, FL. 2016.

Course Format

The course materials for Impact of Materials on Society are delivered in 13 learning modules via a combination of video lectures, e-texts, and high-quality application videos.  Each module of this course will focus on a particular class of materials.   It is important that students follow the modules in the sequence they are presented in order to best prepare for the assignment at the end of each module.  Modules begin with a lecture exploring the physical properties of a particular material delivered by University of Florida Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Kevin Jones and a selection of readings outlining historical case studies of that material’s major social impacts.   Building upon that new knowledge, students will explore innovative applications of various materials by completing an assignment based on a short video that synthesizes the impact of modern materials being developed by scientists from around the U.S. 

Throughout the course students are encouraged to stretch their framework of understanding by adding to an Impact Paradigm introduced in Module 1, and then writing an essay comparing two materials using that paradigm as a mid-course assessment and as part of a final project.  To culminate each module, students will evaluate their personal, as well as society’s, interconnectedness with each material by creating an tanglegram, a graphical tool used to illustrate the relationships between the material and living world, and then writing a short critical essay that elaborates on the impact of that material on humanity. 

Course Assignment Structure

Module Teaching Elements



Modules begin with a lecture exploring the physical properties of a particular material delivered by University of Florida professor of materials science and engineering, Dr. Kevin Jones.


Required readings from:

The Impact of Materials on Society: Discovering Human Material Relationships from Yesterday to Tomorrow. Edited by: Sophia K. Acord and Kevin S. Jones. University Press of Florida: Gainesville, FL. 2016.

Additional readings from selected articles.


Application Video

Short videos created especially for this course by Bruno White Entertainment that synthesize the impact of modern materials being developed by scientists from around the U.S.

Module Practice Elements


Lecture and Readings Quizzes

10 question comprehension checks given mid-module to prepare students for synthesizing content.

Application Video Analysis and 1 Page Essay

Building upon new knowledge, students explore innovative applications of various materials and respond to critical thinking questions related to specifically to each material.

Material Entanglement and Impact Paradigm Reflections

Throughout the course, students construct their relationship to each module’s material and the material’s societal impact by keeping a journal or blog with entries that include an tanglegram of that material (introduced in Module 2) and an addition to their personally customized Impact Paradigm (introduced in Module 1).

Course Objectives Synthesis Exercises


Impact Paradigm Material Comparison Essay (mid-course)

Students synthesize new content knowledge and personal understanding by applying the Impact Paradigm introduced in Module 1 to a material of choice by writing a critical, synthesis essay and their developing Impact Paradigm.

Mid-course and Final Exams

25 multiple choice, true/false, matching, fill-in-the blank, short response questions to test both scientific and sociological comprehension.

Final Project:  Materials Presentation

This final project is an opportunity for students to reflect upon their learning about the physical and social role of materials science and engineering. Students synthesize their new knowledge of material science and societal entanglement by evaluating their personal Material Entanglement and Impact Paradigm Reflections and creating a visual and written presentation



This is an asynchronous distance education course developed at the University of Florida.   In accordance with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) none of the materials in the class can be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research."

Deadlines are set for completion of assignments.  Modules may be completed in advance of the recommended schedule, but students must complete all of the assignments associated with one module before moving on to the next.


IMOS Grading Rubrics

Assignment Type

Points Each


Grading Scale

Lecture and Reading Quizzes (10)
















900- 939






700- 729

670- 699

630- 669

600-629 less than 600

Introductory Assignments (2)



Video Application Assignments (10)



Material Entanglement Reflection Essay  (10)



Mid-course Exam



Mid-course Impact Paradigm Materials Comparison Essay



Final Exam



Final Project








Course Summary:

Date Details Due