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Illustrating High School Physics Concepts Using Microelectromechanical Systems

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Physics in the K-12 Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.621.1 - 7.621.9



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Paper Authors

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Melanie Pearlman

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Kimberly Turner

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Main Menu Session 2480

Illustrating High-school Physics Concepts using Microelectromechanical Systems

Kimberly L. Turner and Melanie Pearlman

Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California 2355 Engineering Building II, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. Phone: 805-893- 5106, Fax: 805-893-8651, Email:


It has been widely demonstrated that students learn quickly, and are less likely to forget material when it is validated using a hands-on experimental approach. Young students are also interested in novel, high-tech applications, which they can understand. We have developed experiments using Microelectromechanical accelerometers and tilt sensors which demonstrate concepts of force and acceleration. The test experiments involve MEMS accelerometers, Game Boy, remote controlled or LEGO vehicles, and personal computers to allow students a hands-on approach to these concepts. Handouts involving the workings of the MEMS (tiny accelerometers made of Silicon) and SEM photos of the structures themselves are provided, along with a large-scale plexiglass model of the MEMS sensor, so that students can see how the MEMS sensors work. The experiments have been tested with high-school students enrolled in a summer research program at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and plans are in place to test the experiments with younger students (8th grade) as well. The experiments have been well-received thus far, and students seem captivated by the small-scale nature of the MEMS sensors. These experiments were designed with a former physics teacher (co-author) to assure that correct content was being presented in a way in which students could easily learn.


In addition to having impact in a broad range of applications, the proposed experiments will have a significant impact in lower-level education as well. The novelty of ultra-small machines and devices leads to new prospects for interesting middle school students in the physical sciences. Microelectromechanical devices encompass a few key ideas which capture students interest and serve as excellent science teaching tools. Some features unique to microsystems, include: 1. Size/Novelty 2. Gender Equality 3. Design flexibility The mere idea that a working, functioning machine can be built which is smaller than the diameter of a human hair, or on the scale of the size of a few blood cells is inherently interesting to younger students. The idea that a secondary school student is able to do an experiment using, or actually designing one of Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ? 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Pearlman, M., & Turner, K. (2002, June), Illustrating High School Physics Concepts Using Microelectromechanical Systems Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11141

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