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Incorporating The Importance Of Interdisciplinary Understanding In K 12 Engineering Outreach Programs Using A Biomimetic Device

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Exemplary Outreach Programs

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.715.1 - 15.715.26

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Paper Authors

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Stanley Hunley Michigan State University

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Joshua Whitman Michigan State University

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Seungik Baek Michigan State University

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Xiaobo Tan Michigan State University

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Drew Kim Michigan State University

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

Incorporating the Importance of Interdisciplinary Understanding in K-12 Engineering Outreach Programs using a Biomimetic Device


The project presented in this paper is designed to motivate interest in the engineering field for K-12 students, especially those who have previously viewed engineering as disconnected from biological sciences or the medical field. This idea is supported by recent trends in biomedical engineering, namely that the number of biomedical engineering bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded throughout the United States has more than doubled since 2000, and that the demand for biomedical engineers will increase through 2010. However, to stimulate early interest in the biomedical engineering field, there is an apparent need for simple projects that clearly convey the relevance of engineering to biomedical contexts.

This paper describes a novel educational program that seeks to achieve this connection at the K-12 understanding level using a build-and-test experimental device that incorporates physics, biology, teamwork, engineering analysis, and cutting edge technology into a single, integrative project. The build-and-test device used in this program is an actuator that simulates the action of sarcomeres (individual contractile units of muscle fibers) during muscle contraction, which demonstrates how creativity in engineering design may inspired by phenomenon found in nature. To build the device, a group of three or four students are assigned individual tasks that combine to produce a working device. The diversity of these specific tasks also allows students to identify areas of engineering that may pique their interest. Furthermore, the project implements new technology in the form of electroactive polymer (EAP), which produces a motion when subject to a voltage difference. After assembling the device and running the experiment, each student group gathers data from their test and determines basic engineering parameters (i.e., force, amount of work done) associated with the results of their experiment. Finally, the students are also given “challenge questions” to stimulate critical thinking skills by applying the same lessons used to complete their initial analysis in other contexts.

We assess the quality of the program based on students’ performance in building and testing the device within a given time frame, their answers to challenge questions and basic biological questions that form the basis of this project, and their feedback on the overall program. The authors finally suggest further improvements to the current project based on these assessments.


Hunley, S., & Whitman, J., & Baek, S., & Tan, X., & Kim, D. (2010, June), Incorporating The Importance Of Interdisciplinary Understanding In K 12 Engineering Outreach Programs Using A Biomimetic Device Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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