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Module 9: Aluminum

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 9 ( PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


This module examines how Aluminum was discovered and the evolution of its production from an extremely rare metal to a very common one. Aluminum first emerged as a metal in search of an application. This module examines the growth of the aluminum consumer market, and uses these lessons to anticipate the future of today's new amorphous metals. From a materials standpoint the module explores how alloying can influence the properties of a metal and how often in Material Science and Engineering one may discover a new materials and then try to find applications that best utilize the unique properties. From a social standpoint the module examines the birth of Alcoa, its subsequent breakup and the concept of monopolies and how one can deal with intellectual property. When an individual company or small set of companies has a dominant market hold on a new material, governments may step in to encourage competition and innovation. The flipped classroom explores potential applications for a new class of metals called amorphous metals. Understanding the business and legal dimensions of materials manufacturing is key to the application of intellectual property options to a new innovation.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of aluminum
  • identify the properties of amorphous metals
  • discover the uses and applications of aluminum both historically and in modern times
  • examine the history and rationale of anti-trust legislation in the U.S.
  • relate the ways that entrepreneurs and firms locate uses for new materials

    Lecture Development Resources
    Day 1

    Material science professor gives an overview of aluminum: explore the origin of early chemistry and how new elements were discovered including aluminum. The properties of aluminum are discussed as well as the history of aluminum production and the birth of ALCOA.

    1. Excerpt (pp.186-197) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
    2. Lecture: Aluminum (PPT)
    3. Sample Lecture Video: Aluminum (19:56) ( Transcript)
    4. Demo Video: Aluminum experiment (2:50)

    Day 2

    Guest history professor presents “Aluminum Alcoa and Anti-trust,” a lecture about the rise of Alcoa from a small business to the largest aluminum company in the world and its subsequent corporate evolution by anti-trust legislation. This lecture introduces concepts of intellectual property and the government regulation of materials companies.

    1. e-Textbook Chapter: Aluminum, Alcoa, and Anti-Trust (PDF) by Sean Adams 
    2. Check for Understanding: Module 9 – Textbook Questions 2017 (Word)
    3. Lecture: Alcoa, Anti-Trust and the Industrial Economy (PPT)
    4. Assignment: Module 9 – Individual Homework Assignment 2017 (Word)
    5. Video: Bulk Metallic Glass–Amorphous Metals (15:15) ( Transcript)
    6. Check for Understanding: Module 9 – Video Questions 2017 (Word)

    Day 3

    Creating new knowledge and innovations offers opportunities in the handling of intellectual property. Using the story of Alcoa and their experience with anti-trust, this flipped classroom activity asks students to imagine a firm that is involved in the production of amorphous metals and strategize about how they would negotiate the handling of intellectual property and risks of anti-trust legislation when developing products for market.  

    1. In-Class Activity: Bulk Metallic Glass (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 or Pamela Hupp for more information.