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Conversion Of Physics Based Labs To An Engineering Physics Curriculum

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Issues in Multidisciplinary Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.322.1 - 8.322.15



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Paper Authors

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Ted Thiede

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James Hereford

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Conversion of Physics-Based Labs to an Engineering Physics Curriculum Theodore D. Thiede and James M. Hereford Department of Physics and Engineering Murray State University Murray, KY 42071 Abstract

In recent times there has been a shift of enrollment of undergraduates from more traditional, research-oriented physics curricula toward more general, applied, engineering physics curricula. As part of this process, the emphasis of activities in undergraduate laboratories must shift from a sole focus on understanding physical phenomena to include a focus on providing the tools and experiences that will allow graduates to apply experimental methods in the development of new processes and products. In a larger, research-oriented engineering university, this change in emphasis may simply result in collaborative efforts between the physics and engineering departments, and local industry. In a more isolated regional university the supporting engineering college structure often does not exist. This paper discusses the evolution of laboratory experiences in the Engineering Physics program at Murray State University (MSU) involving applications from both mechanical and electrical engineering.

Refinement of the MSU Engineering Physics curriculum and subsequent ABET accreditation illuminated the students’ need for applied mechanical and electrical laboratory experiences. In the original physics-based curricula, labs involving mechanical application were practically non- existent. To provide for new mechanical lab activities, basic laboratory stations were procured, an engineering measurements lab and course were created, and innovative, low-cost practical experiences were developed. These activities quickly became too numerous for a single course, and will need to be distributed into the engineering science courses. The electrical engineering component has been influenced by technology advances and changes in focus. Improvements to laboratory equipment and software have simultaneously simplified many lab measurements while allowing for more complex projects. The focus has shifted from fundamental physics measurements (e.g., an electron’s charge) to applied engineering measurements (e.g., a circuit’s time constant), and to incorporation of a significant design component. This paper discusses the equipment, software, and design exercises for courses in analog circuits, digital circuits, and mechanical measurements taught within an Engineering Physics curriculum.

1. Introduction

Physics programs have been in a state of declining enrollment for many years. As disheartening as this may be for faculty at research institutions, this trend is even more threatening at regional, undergraduate universities where there are no engineering students taking introductory calculus- based physics. There are several reasons for declining enrollment. In the booming economy of the 1980’s and 1990’s applied engineering became more valued than an in-depth understanding of modern physics, as a product’s time-to-market became the driving force in project management. At this same time, major government programs such as the space program, the supercollider project, and the “Star Wars” ABM initiative were in a downturn, while defense spending was affected by the end of the cold war. Primarily because of pressures to broaden

Thiede, T., & Hereford, J. (2003, June), Conversion Of Physics Based Labs To An Engineering Physics Curriculum Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11779

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