Our colleagues at MITx have a big fall planned, with many courses starting during September. Here’s motivation to explore one of those upcoming courses.


Photo collage of several mechanical structures.

By Lisa Eichel, MITx Community and Outreach Manager

MITx MOOC 3.032x Mechanical Behavior of Materials is a fascinating exploration of how engineers create materials for different purposes. In advance of its next run starting September 9th, MITx talked to a few learners from the first run of 3.032x to tell us about their experience and share why someone may want to take the course this time.

Why did you decide to take 3.032x?

The learners we spoke to had a variety of reasons for taking the course.  They were eager to get exposure to subjects not available to them during their own university course of study, or were aiming to fill in gaps in knowledge that could benefit them in their current careers.

But commonly, they were drawn to a chance to learn from Professor Lorna Gibson.  Even across the globe, learner Tri Suseno of Perth, Australia was aware of Professor Gibson’s highly respected profile in this field after taking a materials science course during his undergraduate education. “Professor Gibson is a well-known expert in her area, and a well-known excellent teacher.” Mungo Aiken noted that staff from a related MITx on edX course he had completed recommended 3.032x as a next step and specifically emphasized the excellence of Gibson’s teaching.

What was your favorite aspect of the course?

Learners enjoyed the section of the course on Mohr’s Circle, a method of determining stresses on materials.  While challenging, they could really understand how easily it could be applied to common problems. They also appreciated how Professor Gibson included examples found in nature into the course.  “It’s amazing to see how strategies of mechanical advantage are reflected in evolutionary development — how woodpeckers avoid brain damage, for example,” said another 3.032x learner Steven Frank.

Aiken was also impressed by how much time Professor Gibson and MITx Digital Learning Lab Scientist Jessica Sandland spent answering student questions. “The high-quality answers from the staff really furthered my understanding of the subject and led to me taking an interest in current research in material sciences,” he said, “Lorna’s passion for her research really shines through in her posts.”

How did this course help you, either in your career or in your life?

All of the learners we spoke to really appreciated what they got out of 3.032x.  While the course is challenging and time-intensive, they were happy with the decision they made to stick with it.  For patent lawyer Frank, he felt more equipped to talk with clients: “Familiarity with the underlying mechanisms [of materials] helps me ask smarter questions.”  Seseno also noted that as a business owner, taking part in the course, “helped expand my curiosity and problem-solving skills.”

Aiken experienced an even more profound outcome from the course – the chance to meet Professor Gibson in person and talk to her about a potential science career. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate in the sense that taking 3.032x gave me a massive boost to my career,” said Aiken.  He is happy to share that he has accepted an internship at a science company in Massachusetts, which he was initially introduced to via Professor Gibson’s contacts.

Frank’s final thoughts? “If you’re even thinking of taking the course, just DO IT.”

3.032.1x Mechanical Behavior of Materials: Part 1 – Linear Elastic Behavior starts on edX.org on September 9.  The course is formatted as 3 consecutive modules, which make up the full course.


OCW has other examples of Professor Gibson’s teaching, including her recent 3.054 Cellular Solids: Structure, Properties and Applications. This course is a follow-up to 3.032, and spotlights the surprising structure and mechanical behavior of honeycombs and foams. Students apply models for the behavior of cellular solids to applications in engineering and medicine and to natural materials like plants and animal skulls. The OCW course includes a complete set of lecture notes, examples of student projects, and several Instructor Insights videos in which Professor Gibson explains how she teaches.