Students connect with materials engineering through innovative new summer camp

Montana Technological University’s Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering hosted 23 students from Montana, California, Pennsylvania, and New York for its inaugural Materials Summer Camp in June.


The free overnight camp aims to connect high school juniors and seniors with materials science. Students stayed in the dorms and participated in numerous activities showing the need for materials engineers.


“Materials science and metallurgy are critical to the future of society,” said camp leader and Teagan Leitzke, a post-doctoral researcher at Montana Tech. “We develop products, but also focus on how to do that without depleting the planet’s resources.”


Grant Wallace, Ph.D., is a research associate who led the camp.

“We want to expose students to our engineering field,” Wallace said. “Our field is incredibly important but gets very little coverage in daily life. When people think of engineers, they don’t think about materials science as engineering. We’re trying to show students that this is very much engineering, and is very important to how your everyday life functions.”


Materials and metallurgy engineers are the scientists who study how “stuff” is made, and find ways to improve upon current methods.

“We take a lot of this engineering for granted daily,” Wallace notes. “Your car is just there, and your house exists, but all of these things have to be made of materials, and someone has to make those materials. It’s a cool field.”


Students explored the broad range of career options for materials engineers and metallurgists through field trips. The copper-mining process was highlighted in a visit to Montana Resources. REC Silicon also gave the camp participants a tour. The Butte facility is a global leader in high-purity silicon materials.


“A lot of this engineering is done here in Montana,” Wallace said.

Wally Graff, a senior from Butte, said it was eye-opening to learn about how “stuff” comes to exist, but also that it’s being created right in his backyard.


“I did not know about REC Silicon,” Graff said. “It’s been lots of fun. I’ve learned a lot. We had small breakoff groups, where the competition was quite enjoyable.”

The breakoff groups spent time casting and polishing aluminum medallions. Students also learned about crushing, grinding, and mineral processing. The main event was 3-hours spent in groups of three forging a steel knife with old-fashioned blacksmithing techniques.

On the last day of camp, groups put their blades to the test. The blades were tested for hardness and ability to cut through strawberries and carrots on a cutting board. They also were expected to cut through a suspended banana. Camp organizers performed the cutting, and students were not allowed to take home their blades. The final test was to see if the blades would break or bend under high pressure.

The team of Zeke Merrick, 16 of Butte; Maddy Noland, 16, of White Sulphur Springs; and Anna Mwaniki, 16, of Laurel grinned as their blade sailed through the trials.

Merrick said his favorite part of the week was the visit to REC Silicon.

“I thought it was cool how they create the silicon,” Merrick said.

Mwaniki said she plans to go into the biological sciences, and was happy to learn how materials scientists design items that go inside the body, like biofilms and biomaterials.

Noland said visiting the Berkeley Pit tumblers was a highlight, but the week was fascinating.

“I just think this stuff is really interesting,” Noland said.

The camp was paid for by donations secured through the Montana Tech Foundation’s two-day fundraising event called DayOne. To donate to next year’s camp, contact Dr. Jerry Downey, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department Head ( or Shannon Panisko at the Montana Tech Foundation.


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