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Developing Inquiry-based Laboratory Exercises for a Mechanical Engineering Curriculum

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Improving the Pedagogy of Laboratory Courses

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.432.1 - 25.432.10



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Paper Authors


Sriram Sundararajan Iowa State University

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Sriram Sundararajan is an Associate professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University. He is currently the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Programs and oversees curricular and program matters including assessment and continuous improvement efforts. His research areas encompass scanning probe microscopy, multiscale tribology (friction, lubrication and wear), and surface engineering. More recently, he has focused on atom scale mapping of thin film material systems using 3D-atom probe microscopy. He has authored over 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings and two invited book chapters. He serves on the conference committee for the International Conference on Wear of Materials and has been recognized for his accomplishments with the Young Engineering Faculty Research Award and Early Achievement in Teaching Award at Iowa State University. He received his B.E. degree in mechanical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani (India) followed by M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. He is a member of ASEE, ASME, and ASM.

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LeAnn E. Faidley Iowa State University

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LeAnn Faidley is an Assistant Professor of engineering science at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. From 2006-2011, she taught mechanical engineering at Iowa State University where remains a collaborating professor. She is interested in implementing innovative engineering pedagogy in her classrooms including scenario-based laboratory exercises, service-learning projects, and hands-on activities in a lecture environment among others.

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Terrence R. Meyer Iowa State University

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Terrence R. Meyer obtained his bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota Minneapolis, St. Paul, in 1993. He then worked as a design engineer for Cummins Engine Company until returning to academia as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1994. After completing his Ph.D. in the area of laser diagnostics and turbulence in 2000, he joined a research group conducting combustion and laser-based diagnostics for the Air Force Research Laboratory until joining the faculty at Iowa State University's Mechanical Engineering Department in 2006. He is currently the William and Virginia Binger Assistant Professor in mechanical engineering and is the Coordinator for the department's Clean Energy Technologies program.

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Developing inquiry-based laboratory exercises for a mechanical engineering curriculumThis paper describes the development of two inquiry-based experiments in a mechanicalengineering curriculum aimed at providing students with the opportunity to design andperform experiments. One experiment in systems dynamics and one experiment in fluiddynamics were developed. In each case, students working on teams were posed with ascenario and question to answer. For example, in the system dynamics experiment,students were asked to verify that a thermal system and electrical system weremechanically equivalent systems. In the fluid dynamics experiment, students were askedto investigate drag coefficients for flow over a sphere over a range of Reynolds numbers.The students were required to formulate the theoretical approach and solve based ongiven information and assumptions. Subsequently the students were required to plan anexperiment using available equipment to obtain data to support their theoreticalapproach. Once the experimental plan was reviewed to avoid critical errors, studentscompleted the experiment and compared solutions to theoretical predictions. Studentswere then required to discuss and explain observed differences between experimental andpredicted values, thereby allowing them to examine the validity of theoretical constructsand assumptions as well as uncertainties in the measurement process. Students write apaper on the laboratory exercise, which is graded against a defined rubric that assessesthe work on various areas including theoretical approach, experimental approach, datareporting and discussion of results. An assessment of these 'open-ended' laboratoryexercises showed that students found the open-ended approach 1) difficult andchallenging compared to other prescribed laboratory exercises; 2) beneficial tounderstanding how experiments can help understand validity of theoretical approachesand; 3) beneficial to understanding limitations of experiments.

Sundararajan, S., & Faidley, L. E., & Meyer, T. R. (2012, June), Developing Inquiry-based Laboratory Exercises for a Mechanical Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21190

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