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Design And Application Of A Beam Testing System For Experiential Learning In Mechanics Of Materials

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Anything New in the Mechanics of Materials?

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.356.1 - 13.356.13



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Paper Authors


Rani Sullivan Mississippi State University

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Rani W. Sullivan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Mississippi State University. She teaches the core courses in engineering mechanics and maintains a strong interest in developing experiential education. She received her Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering in 2003, M.S. in Engineering Mechanics in 1993 and B.S. in Aerospace Engineering in 1989 from Mississippi State University. Her major technical interests are in solid mechanics, and in particular on the time-dependent deformation behavior of polymeric composites.

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Masoud Rais-Rohani Mississippi State University

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Masoud Rais-Rohani is a Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. He received his BS and MS degrees from Mississippi State University and his PhD from Virginia Tech. Prof. Rais-Rohani teaches courses in aircraft structures, structural mechanics, and design optimization. He has developed two extensive online tutorials, one for Statics (VLSM) and another for Aircraft Structural Analysis (TuPAS). His primary research activities are in the area of structural and multidisciplinary design optimization.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Design and Application of a Beam Testing System for Experiential Learning in Mechanics of Materials


Research shows that students can significantly improve their understanding and retention of topics presented in an engineering course when discussions of theoretical and mathematical approaches are combined with active-learning exercises involving hands-on physical experiments. In this paper, the design and application of a beam testing system (BTS) to promote experiential learning in Mechanics of Materials are discussed. Students in the experimental group were given the opportunity to verify their analytical predictions on two separate projects by conducting experiments using the BTS whereas those in the control group only performed the analysis part. Based on the performance of the two student groups on a common exam problem, the experiential learning is found to have a positive impact. Moreover, the students’ responses to an anonymous survey indicate that the students in the experimental group generally showed a higher degree of satisfaction with the class projects than those in the control group.


Engineering education in the early to mid twentieth century relied heavily on the use of physical models and experiments to enforce the topics covered in an engineering course. However, over the years, this important practice was deemphasized as hands-on activities were reduced and relegated to only one or two laboratory courses. Recent research1-6 on the merit of active student interaction with physical models has revitalized interest in the use of such models, not just in laboratory classes but—more importantly—as an integral part of traditional lecture-based engineering courses.

Couple of years ago, the authors had an opportunity to design and develop a structural testing system at the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University. In one experiment, a whiffletree loading mechanism (WLM), as shown in Fig. 1, was designed and used for static testing of a full-scale composite aircraft wing. For simplicity, the wings were mounted upside-down and loaded downward to simulate the lift force distribution. Whiffletree loading is often used in the Aerospace industry, with the grade of complexity depending on the number of discrete loading points on the structure and the number of levels in the WLM. Regardless of its loading complexity, such experiments embody many of the basic principles covered in statics and mechanics of materials courses such as the calculation of the magnitude and location of the resultant force associated with a distributed load. This experience provided the impetus for the authors to pursue the topic presented in this paper.

After an initial brainstorming, authors submitted a proposal and received a grant to pursue a plan to integrate hands-on activities into the mechanics of materials curriculum. A simple beam testing system (BTS) was subsequently designed and built in the summer of 2007 and was introduced into the course on an experimental basis later in the fall when the first author taught two separate sections of Mechanics of Materials. This also provided an opportunity to perform a limited formative assessment of the effectiveness of this experiential activity on student learning.

Sullivan, R., & Rais-Rohani, M. (2008, June), Design And Application Of A Beam Testing System For Experiential Learning In Mechanics Of Materials Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3961

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