The Materials Machine

The research group of Prof. Daniel Gall has developed an educational demonstration tool, the Materials Machine, that illustrates thin film deposition as well as basic materials science concepts. Most of the development work has been done by undergraduate students Heather Bowman (2007-2008) and Adam Bross (2009-2010). The following images are screen shots from a movie (shorter version) that can be downloaded at YouTube.


Adam explains the Materials Machine to children grades 3-7.

All materials are made of atoms, which are represented here using blue and green cups. Different atoms make different materials.


During thin film deposition, atoms fall onto a surface to form a new material.

The atoms form a regular arrangement, which is called the crystal structure. Adam counts the number of nearest neighbors for the green and blue cups.


The blue cups form a close-packed structure. Note the rather small space between the atoms. This arrangement is typical for atoms with non-directional bonding as common in metals. The black lines indicate the repeating unit.

The green cups use magnets, to illustrate directional bonding. This is common in materials like diamond or also silicon, which is used to make computer chips. The cups form a square lattice. The spaces between the green cups are larger than for the blue cups.


The development of the Materials Machine has been funded by the National Science Foundation.

Some more explanation can be found on a poster by Adam Bross.