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Module 8: Iron and Steel

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 8 ( PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


This module introduces the materials science behind the smelting of iron and fabrication of steel. The mass industrial manipulation of iron ushered in the modern Industrial Revolution. This module looks at the entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie, the creation of the steel industry, and industrial innovation, and uses lessons learned to predict how the growing use of new magnesium alloys will shape business and industry. This includes the concept of alloying with carbon and the iron carbon phase diagram. The history of steel is discussed from primitive times through the industrial revolution. The process of innovating with a new material on a mass market level has winners and losers; understanding how making new materials may require the re-ordering of social, political, and economic systems enables us to anticipate important consequences. The birth of US Steel and the concept of creative destruction is introduced and subsequently applied to the modern material magnesium which is replacing steel in many new applications.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of iron and steel
  • identify the properties of magnesium alloys
  • discover the uses and applications of iron both historically and in modern times
  • examine the role of workers and organized labor in materials manufacturing
  • discover the business economics of materials production

    Lecture Development Resources
    Day 1

    Material science professor gives an overview of iron & steel: review the properties of iron and steel, the history of iron making from early furnace designs to modern steel making, the concept of the iron carbon phase diagram and the different forms of alloys (wrought iron, steel, cast iron) that exist and why. The role carbon plays on the properties of these various alloys is discussed.

    1. Excerpt (pp.83-97, 203-214) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
    2. Lecture: Iron and Steel (PPT)
    3. Sample Lecture Video: Iron and Steel (19:48) ( Transcript)
    4. Demo Video: Iron Experiment (3:52)
    5. Demo Video: Dislocation Demonstration (2:33)
    Classroom Demo: Fe3O4 powder is placed in a graphite crucible and under a torch is reduced to iron which is subsequently picked up by a magnet.

    Day 2

    Guest history professor presents Carnegie, Creative Destruction and American Steel. This lecture introduces the concept of “creative destruction” as a way to understand how advances in materials manufacturing can also displace existing markets and professions.

    1. e-Textbook Chapter: Carnegie, Creative Destruction and American Steel (PDF) by Sean Adams
    2. Check for Understanding: Module 8 – Textbook Questions 2017 (Word)
    3. Lecture: Carnegie, Steel and Creative Destruction (PPT) by Sean Adams
    4. Assignment: Module 8 – Individual Homework Assignment 2017 (Word)
    5. Video: Magnesium Alloys (9:57) ( Transcript)
    6. Check for Understanding: Module 8 – Video Questions 2017 (Word)

    Day 3

    Using Andrew Carnegie’s experience with steel as a blueprint, this flipped classroom activity asks students to imagine a plan to develop a firm that specializes in the production of Magnesium Alloys. The activity also asks students to explore what potentially competing interests might be impacted by this new material and creative ways to respond to their concerns. If we are aware of the risk of “creative destruction” in producing new materials, perhaps we can find a way to promote creative “adaptation” instead of “destruction."

    1. In-Class Activity: Magnesium Alloys (Word)
    2. Assignment: Impact Paradigm Individual Homework Assignment (Word)

    Additional Resources

    Online Course Module

    • View the online module in PDF or Word format.
    • Available soon: The full online course to upload to your Learning Management System. Contact Kevin Jones at [email protected] or Pamela Hupp for more information.


    • Carnegie, Andrew. Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. (Ch. 13. The Age of Steel). Boston: Houghton, 1920. Print.