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Senior Design for Materials Science and Engineering

2014 Senior Design posterThe Senior Design course sequence (MATE 491, 492, and 493) is the most important challenge of the senior year. This three-term capstone sequence (designated as writing intensive (WI) in the fall and spring terms for BS students, and in all three terms for BS/MS students) is intended to simulate a professional research and learning environment, providing students with experience in solving problems independently and/or working in a group on an open-ended research/design problem, and to refine students’ skills in information gathering, analysis, critical thinking, and communication. Substantial interaction between students, faculty, and industry/government institutions is an integral part of the experience.

Guidelines for the College of Engineering 2016 Senior Design Competition can be found here



  • During the fall term, students work in teams (BS) or individually (BS/MS accelerated degree) within the Department of Materials Science & Engineering (MSE), or with students from other departments, on a selected topic of interest, and develop and present design/project proposals and their initial results to the MSE faculty and the rest of the senior class. During the winter term, students continue working on their research/design problems, giving oral and written progress reports to the MSE department faculty, their peers, and any external project supporters towards the end of the term. Towards the end of the spring term, project teams prepare and present final oral reports and submit written final reports to the MSE faculty.
  • The three-term course sequence benefits students in two ways: it provides a forum for them to communicate their ideas and results to the faculty and their peers, and it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate, in an integrated fashion, the skills and knowledge they have acquired during their undergraduate education.

Senior Design Course Structure

  • The senior design experience is a three-term capstone sequence culminating in final oral project presentations and written reports in the spring term. Each term there are weekly class meetings at which students’ attendance is required. These meetings are in part organizational and informational meetings and progress reviews, and include topics such as:
    • Laboratory Safety
    • Aspects of the design process - what makes a good project
    • Job hunting and career selection – the importance of getting an early start and the importance of networking
    • Keeping a laboratory notebook; patents and intellectual property
    • Task and time management
    • Teamwork
    • Entrepreneurship
    • GANNT charts, etc.
    • Research and library resources
    • Preparation of a project Budget
    • Written Reports (including Peer Reader review)
    • Oral Presentation preparation and delivery
    • Economic, Environmental, Social, Political, Ethical, Health & Safety, Manufacturability, and Sustainability considerations

Senior Design Methodology and Approach

  • By the beginning of the fall term, and preferably before leaving for co-op during the spring and summer terms of their junior year, students are required to select a project, a faculty advisor and graduate student mentor, and to form or join a team. The student’s advisor(s) and/or the senior design coordinator (Richard Knight, PhD), review and approve the project topics. All students, regardless of the home department of their faculty advisor, must submit a written pre-proposal during the fall term of their senior year. The senior design coordinator and primary faculty advisor review each pre-proposal, which must be approved, or revised if necessary. Formal approval of the topic and planned approach is required for participation in a senior design project.
  • All MSE students taking senior design are required to have an MSE faculty member as their primary senior design project advisor. Students undertaking team projects involving substantial activity outside of the MSE department should also have an additional faculty co-advisor from the other department. Students wishing to conduct senior design projects arising from their co-op experience, or an industry-supported project, must, in addition to having an MSE faculty advisor, also identify a co-advisor from their co-op provider or industry partner. All MSE senior design students are also required to work closely with a senior graduate student or post-doc from their MSE faculty advisor’s research group, who will serve as the student’s graduate mentor.

Progress Meetings & Reporting

  • All seniors (including BS/MS students) are required to meet with their advisor(s) on a regular basis to review progress, identify problem areas, and discuss and develop solutions. In addition to the oral and written progress reports required at the end of each term, brief oral progress reports from selected projects may be required during the weekly class meeting. These reports should include a summary of each students’ meetings with their advisor(s).

Senior Design Term By Term

  • Fall Term (WI) (2 Credits)

    Teams are expected to be ready to begin work on their projects in week 1 of the fall term. Written pre-proposals are required in Week 5 of the fall term. These are reviewed by the students’ advisor(s) and the senior design coordinator, and feedback regarding the scope, goals, depth and feasibility of the planned project activity are provided to students. The objective of the pre-proposals is to ensure the feasibility of the proposed project activity, i.e. that the planned scope of work is neither too extensive nor too short for the three-term project duration. Safety aspects of the planned project are also reviewed and discussed.

    Close to the end of the term, each team gives a 15-minute oral presentation, with 5 minutes for questions, on their topic and progress to the MSE faculty and the rest of the senior class. Written proposal/progress reports are also due at the time of the oral presentations. Students’ oral presentations and written reports are expected to include a clear definition of the problem being studied, an outline of the proposed solution and details of the proposed design, planned experimental approach, and analytical work needed to accomplish the project objectives. All students are also required to include an analysis of the safety aspects of their project during their first presentation. Presentation of preliminary data and results is strongly encouraged.

  • Winter Term (2 Credits)

    Teams are expected to continue to work on the projects begun in the fall term. Copies of the evaluations of the fall term oral presentations will be provided to, and reviewed with, students at the beginning of the winter term. Feedback from marked-up graded written reports will also be provided to students. Students are encouraged to review these with their primary senior design/MS thesis advisor(s) and/or graduate mentor(s). The objective is to communicate comments and suggestions arising after the first term’s work, with the expectation that any shortcomings or issues identified or highlighted will be addressed during the winter term. Safety-related aspects of the project will continue to be reviewed and discussed, and updated as necessary.

    Close to the end of the term, each team gives a 15-minute oral presentation, with 5 minutes for questions, on their topics and progress to the MSE faculty and the rest of the senior class. Written progress reports are also submitted around the time of the oral presentations. Substantial progress is expected by the end of winter term.

  • Spring Term (WI) (4 Credits)

    In the spring term, teams complete their design projects. The term culminates with 20-minute oral presentations, with 5 minutes for questions, of each project to the MSE faculty, co-advisors, mentors, external supporters and the rest of the senior class. Final written reports are due 2-3 days following the oral presentations.


  • At the end of each quarter, all MSE department senior design students (and BS/MS students) give oral presentations detailing their progress, which are scored (according to ABET criteria a-g and k) by their peers, by MSE and other faculty members present, and by any external/industry co-advisors. BS student teams’ written reports are each graded by three faculty - the team’s primary technical advisor(s) plus two (or one) others, as appropriate.
  • Scores from students’ oral presentations and letter grades for the written reports assigned by three faculty graders are weighted (40% for the oral presentations, 60% for the written reports) and aggregated into a single numerical score, and ultimately into an overall letter grade.
  • BS/MS students’ research and thesis progress (described in the section about the BS/MS program) are used as the basis for determining individual grades for MATE 898.

BS/MS Accelerated Degrees in Materials Science and Engineering (MATE 898)

  • MSE department students in the BS/MS accelerated degree program carry out their MS thesis research in lieu of the traditional senior design projects described above. The BS/MS program culminates with an oral presentation and defense of a written master’s thesis, as prescribed by, and in accordance with, the MSE department’s graduate program requirements and guidelines. ABET accreditation of the department’s undergraduate degree program requires a significant “design” component, which is fulfilled, in large part, by the senior design sequence, but which is not included in a traditional MS research thesis activity. ABET does include BS/MS in its program assessment and requires fulfillment of the “design” component as part of students’ MS studies.
  • BS/MS students pursuing the non-thesis option complete 45 credits of coursework and do not complete a thesis. 
  • All BS/MS students undertaking the research/thesis portion of their MS studies are required to participate in those parts of the senior design course sequence which demonstrate the required design component. Specifically, all MSE department BS/MS students in their final year also:

    (a) Attend the fall, winter, and spring term senior design meetings, and

    (b) Give oral progress presentations to the MSE faculty during the regular senior design presentations scheduled at the end of both the fall and winter terms.

  • MS Thesis Hours

    BS/MS accelerated degree program students in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) are required to complete nine (9) credit hours of Master’s Thesis (MATE 898) prior to graduation, comprising 3 credit hours per term in each of the fall, winter, and spring terms of their senior year.

    BS/MS students may also take up to 6 credits of graduate research (MATE 897), subject to the approval of the MSE department Graduate Advisor and the student’s research advisor.

  • Guidelines for MS Thesis Research

    1. The research should provide a useful educational experience for the student, emphasizing creativity, independent action, thinking and learning, research methodology, and a scholarly approach.
    2. The research undertaken must be relevant to the field of materials science and engineering.
    3. The contributions to knowledge must be original and, as such, should represent a substantial contribution to the fundamental knowledge of the field or a new and better interpretation of existing knowledge. The research must demonstrate creativity. Theses based on well-known principles, techniques, and models applied to situations only slightly different from previous applications are not acceptable.
    4. The thesis should contain clear statements regarding (i) the relevance and importance of the problem and (ii) the significance, originality, and generality of the research results. The relationship of the research to the literature in the field should be described.
    5. All BS/MS students are required to include an analysis of the safety aspects of their project during their first presentations.
    6. The research should exhibit the major characteristics of the scientific method, namely objectivity and reproducibility. Assumptions made should be clearly stated in both experimental and theoretical research.
    7. The thesis should reflect a level of competence commensurate with significant achievement beyond the bachelor’s level. Thus, the research is expected to draw directly upon advanced learning in the student’s major field and demonstrate mastery of that knowledge.
    8. The thesis must demonstrate understanding of the theory and methodology related to its main thrust. Further, the thesis should reflect knowledge of the application area.
    9. The research should/may result in at least one paper publishable in a suitable refereed journal of materials engineering or science, as appropriate.
    10. The thesis should demonstrate a high degree of proficiency in written communication of research results. It should conform to the University's requirements as outlined in the Graduate Office’s “Manual for Graduate Theses.”
    11. The scope of the research should be such that it requires at least the time and effort equivalent to 9 credit hours of graduate study. 3-credit hours is assumed to be equivalent to a minimum of 3 hours effort per week (minimum 30 hours per term).
  • Master’s Thesis

    A thesis is required for all students pursuing a BS/MS degree in Materials Science and Engineering. Although a student in the BS/MS program may register for thesis credits without limit, no more than 9 Master’s thesis credits may be counted toward a master’s degree. Students should consult their advisor(s) and the department graduate advisor at an early date to ascertain departmental and college policies pertinent to the program. If the master’s thesis is to be placed in the library, the format must be reviewed and approved as part of the graduation requirements. Students should consult the Thesis Manual for formatting and completion requirements.

  • Writing Intensive (WI) Requirements for BS/MS Students

    MS thesis (MATE 898) is designated as a Writing Intensive (WI) course for all three terms of the senior year. The WI requirements for BS/MS students differ somewhat from those for BS students, as detailed below.

  • Fall Term

    BS/MS students submit a 15-20 page written Research Proposal to their MS thesis advisor by the end of week 8 of the fall term. The advisor (or their graduate mentor) reviews the research proposal and provides substantive oral and written feedback to the student. A final, revised research proposal is submitted at the end of week 10, and is used, in part, to determine the student’s grade for the term.

  • Winter Term

    BS/MS students submit a 15-20 page written Progress Report or agreed upon draft thesis chapters to their MS thesis advisor by the end of week 8 of the winter term. The advisor (or their designated graduate mentor to the BS/MS student) reviews the progress report and provides substantive oral and written feedback to the student. A final, revised research progress report (or thesis chapters) is submitted at the end of week 10, and is used, in part, to determine the student’s grade for the term.

  • Spring Term

    BS/MS students, as agreed upon with their thesis advisor, write and submit draft versions of the required chapters of their MS thesis to their thesis advisor for review, revision, feedback, and approval prior to scheduling their final MS thesis defense before the end of term.

Examples of Senior Design Projects

  • PDFs of previous Senior Design quad charts can be viewed here.
  • Videos of previous Senior Design oral presentations can be viewed here.

Senior Design Support Opportunities

  • More Information about becoming a Senior Design Supporter can be found here.