Asee peer logo

Daring Young Engineers on the Flying Trapeze: Using Circus Arts to Teach Dynamics

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Engineering Mechanics Education

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.416.1 - 22.416.17



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


AnnMarie Thomas University of Saint Thomas

visit author page

AnnMarie Thomas is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas, and Co-Director of the UST Center for Pre-Collegiate Engineering Education. Her teaching and research focus on Engineering Design and K-12 Engineering Education. Prior to her appointment at UST, she was a faculty member at Art Center College of Design.

visit author page

author page

Keith Berrier University of Saint Thomas


Andrea Guggenbuehl University of Saint Thomas, Health and Human Performance Department

visit author page

Andrea is a 2009 graduate of the University of St. Thomas where she majored in Health Promotion-Science. She is currently a graduate student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at St. Catherine University.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Daring Young Engineers on the Flying Trapeze: Using Circus Arts to Teach DynamicsIn an effort to playfully approach the study of dynamics in a hands-on manner, the course“Dynamics with Circus Laboratory” was developed and taught. This course coveredtopics including rotating reference frames, and rigid body dynamics. Unique to thiscourse were laboratory sessions held at a local circus school, in which students were ableto use experimental methods to explore topics covered in the course. • German Wheel: For the first lab in this course, students explored reference frame transformations. Before attending the lab session they were asked to calculate the velocity and acceleration of a point on a non-slipping wheel as it rolls in a straight path. During the lab, students were taught how to perform a cartwheel in the German Wheel. They took video of the exercise, and then used the Kinematic Analysis program KAVideo to plot the position, velocity, and acceleration of points on their body as a function of time. This data was then compared to the theoretical model that they derived. As expected, there was a very strong correlation between actual and predicted results. • Flying Trapeze/ Low-Casting: This lab investigates whether or not a simple pendulum is a good model for the flying trapeze. Students also consider whether a double pendulum models the motion of a flying trapeze. Both sensor data and motion capture data were used to compare students’ performance on the flying trapeze and the low-casting trapeze (essentially a miniature flying trapeze) with their theoretical model. • Bungee Trapeze: Students were asked to derive the equation of motion for a person stepping off of a trapeze while wearing bungee cords. This complemented lectures on springs, damping, and oscillations. During the lab session, the students performed this feat while wearing accelerometers, and were then asked to compare their theoretical model with the actual data. Effects of damping and oscillation were covered. Student feedback for this course was quite positive. As will be discussed in the paper, experimental results for the above exercises were quite consistent with the theoretical models. In cases where there were significant differences between the experimental and theoretical results, the opportunity was used to discuss issues such as experimental error.

Thomas, A., & Berrier, K., & Guggenbuehl, A. (2011, June), Daring Young Engineers on the Flying Trapeze: Using Circus Arts to Teach Dynamics Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17697

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015