Asee peer logo

Introducing Programming and Problem Solving with Arduino-based Laboratories

Download Paper |


2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Physics and Physics Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics and Physics

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Michael Daugherity Abilene Christian University

visit author page

Dr. Michael Daugherity is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Physics at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He received his PhD in Nuclear Physics from the University of Texas at Austin. His primary research focuses on nuclear physics experiments at the Brookhaven National Lab and Fermi National Accelerator Lab atom smashers performing data analysis and building radiation detectors. Including undergraduate students in research is a major emphasis at ACU's Engineering and Physics department. Dr. Daugherity's other research interests include data science and machine learning as well as education and science outreach.

visit author page

Download Paper |


First year engineering and physics undergraduate students in our department begin their studies with an intro course designed to teach fundamental skills, explore career options in engineering and physics, and build community. We have developed a series of labs and activities based on Arduino microcontrollers that helps us accomplish all three of these goals.

Through departmental self-studies, Industrial Advisory Board recommendations, and internship programs, we identified programming skills as an area to strengthen in the curriculum, particularly for physics students. We now devote roughly 1/3 of class and lab time in our freshmen intro course to Excel and programming. Working within the constrained environment of a programming language and encouraging algorithmic thinking helps reinforce the structured approaches to design and problem solving introduced earlier in the course. We have found through experience that many students have an easier time learning programming when coupled with hardware since they can see the effect of code running in the real world. Building simple circuits with Arduino microcontrollers also accomplishes the additional goal of exposing students to different fields of engineering and physics. Many of our students have no prior experience in programming or circuits, so these activities provide a fun first exposure to these fields.

Students purchase a very inexpensive kit with an Arduino Uno and all of necessary components to build many projects. We start with a basic LED circuit and then carefully sequence class and lab activities that gradually introduce more complex components and programming skills. The first major project is a light meter using a photoresistor and servo to display ambient light levels on a calibrated scale. Other projects include displaying Morse code with LEDs, a temperature monitor, a proximity alarm, and a robotic arm. Finally, the students incorporate Arduinos into their major design project for the semester. They are encouraged not only to apply what they have learned but also to explore new capabilities beyond what has been required in class. In conclusion, we have found Arduino-based labs to be a low-cost, high-impact way of introducing programming and problem solving into the engineering physics curriculum.

Daugherity, M. (2019, June), Introducing Programming and Problem Solving with Arduino-based Laboratories Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33016

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015