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High Level Programming Packages In Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Math Software Use in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.668.1 - 9.668.7



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Paper Authors

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Ian Leslie

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

Session 3265

High Level Programming Packages in Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering

I. H. Leslie, G. Garcia New Mexico State University


At the start of the 2003-04 academic year Mathcad and Matlab were chosen for the introductory programming course in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Prior to this change, C programming was taught, which had replaced FORTRAN several years earlier. The primary motivation for introducing these high level programming packages is to allow more time to be spent on setting up and solving engineering problems. Faculty responsible for this introductory course as well as a numerical methods course felt that too much time was being spent on the minutia of programming syntax. Both of these packages can be learned sufficiently quickly to tackle meaningful problems in undergraduate engineering within one semester. Each package has its strengths and a role to play in undergraduate engineering instruction. These strengths will be discussed in the paper.


The Mechanical Engineering Department at NMSU has a long history of teaching programming at the undergraduate level. As with virtually every other engineering program, the important role of scientific computing was recognized early on. When one of the authors joined the faculty in 1984, FORTRAN was the programming language being taught. This language is still sometimes used for code development at the graduate level. Research level computational work at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories is often done with FORTRAN. Despite FORTRAN’s historical importance, C (also C++) programming has become much more wide spread. Thus, several years ago FORTRAN was dropped in favor of C. Because of this change it was possible for ME students to take a programming class from the Computer Science Department as well as through their own department. This scheduling flexibility notwithstanding, C programming was dropped this academic year in favor of the higher level programming available with Mathcad and Matlab.

Once the decision to drop C was made, discussions among the faculty were held to decide which package should be the replacement. Although Mathcad and Matlab can be used to do many of the same things, they are really quite distinctive and have their own strengths. These strengths are discussed latter, but for now it can be said that the conclusion to teach both was based on flexibility, both for the student and the instructor. A numerical methods course may be better suited to Matlab, while a course such as heat transfer, which has not historically relied on numerical computations, may more easily incorporate Mathcad. Mathematica has been used in the graduate engineering analysis course.

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Leslie, I. (2004, June), High Level Programming Packages In Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13846

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