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Increasing Undergraduate Laboratory Experiences

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Undergraduate Aerospace Labs/Design I

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.754.1 - 10.754.9



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Paper Authors

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Keith Koenig

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Emmanuel Okoro

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Viva Austin

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Thomas Hannigan

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

Increasing Undergraduate Laboratory Experiences T. Hannigan, K. Koenig, V. Austin, E. Okoro Mississippi State University


Use of higher level programming environments have made it increasingly easy to formulate theoretical solutions, but at the cost of distancing the students from understanding the physical phenomena. In an attempt to allay this, our undergraduate laboratory experiences have been increasing as our aerospace engineering curriculum undergoes modernization. Two laboratory classes of the upper division of the MSU curriculum have been moved ahead one semester in the current curriculum, and may be moved even further ahead. Although these courses are almost entirely experiential in nature, changes to the curriculum and rapidly changing technologies are necessitating some changes to the character and substance of these labs. These courses are being modified to provide general guidance in experimental methods and analysis, and to specifically provide an introduction to data acquisition and control of experiments directly related to analytical coursework. Lab classes continue to be a forum for individual research projects and seminar presentations. Individual laboratory experiences have also become an important part of three introductory courses taught in the freshman and sophomore years, with experiments ranging from simple exercises to complex analytical and experimental correlations. Additional laboratory experiences have been added to other traditional aerospace courses of the upper division. The motivation for increasing laboratory participation is detailed in this paper, and the impact of these changes is discussed. Course and departmental goals and objectives, and related ABET accreditation criteria are discussed, and the effectiveness of these efforts is assessed. The accommodation of undergraduate design-build-fly teams is discussed, and the potential for such competitions to provide a more complete laboratory experience is assessed.


The use of computational tools like Mathcad1 and programming environments such as MATLAB2 and LabVIEW3 have made it increasingly easy to program complex solutions to analytical problems. However, the use of such tools has increasingly distanced the students from understanding the physical phenomena under consideration. It becomes increasingly simple to express complex problems succinctly, but errors in logic or in simple input to computations become more difficult to detect. When computational or programming abilities were built up slowly, using tried-and-true problem solving methodology, those computations and programs were considered suspect until coded and tested. For the most part, hand calculations were performed with the emphasis on insuring that a code could generate a known solution prior to trusting that solution on a more complex or unknown problem. As the use of Mathcad and other programs replaced the calculator, the tendency became to trust the equations to generate a correct solution. Where a problem is posed correctly, with all of the correct inputs, one would imagine that a correct solution would be an orderly consequence. However, because all problems have inputs and outputs that are signed and dimensioned quantities, even correctly posed problems

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Koenig, K., & Okoro, E., & Austin, V., & Hannigan, T. (2005, June), Increasing Undergraduate Laboratory Experiences Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15615

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