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Intuition, Observations, And Generalization In Mechanics Of Materials

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Improving Mechanics of Materials Classes

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.788.1 - 8.788.13

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Paper Authors

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Madhukar Vable

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

Session 2368 Intuition, observations, and generalization in mechanics of materials

Madhukar Vable Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, Michigan Technological University


The introduction of advanced topics as means of modernizing engineering curriculum, the need for interdisciplinary research and education to meet societies challanges, the time constraint that engineering students graduate in four years while getting a modern-interdisciplinary-education, are some of the factors driving the evolution of basic engineering courses such as mechanics of materials. Generalization of principles in the basic engineering courses is one mechanism by which a greater amount of knowledge can be taught in a compact form. But intrinsic to any gener- alization is the increase in abstraction of concepts. This increase in abstraction may cause many engineering students to lose interest in the profession as they generally have a predisposition towards more practical and applied work. The challenge confronting the engineering education community is to present the subject material in such a way that the intuition, experimental obser- vations and mathematical generalization complement each other and the students can see the practical applications of the general principles. In this paper a pedagogy of presentation of mechanics of materials concepts is described. Through a series of examples the pedagogy by which cultivation of intuition, experimental observations, and mathematical generalization can be presented in a complimentary manner is elaborated in context of two important concepts in mechanics of materials, namely: concept of stress and theory of one-dimensional structural ele- ments. The practical application of general principles in context of design is presented in a sepa- rate paper.

1. Introduction

Near the beginning of twentieth century, courses using textbooks1,2 with title ‘resistance of mate- rials’ were significantly more applied than today’s course called ‘mechanics of materials’. As the emphasis on statics and the concept of stress and strains grew, the popular textbooks title3,4,5 became ‘strength of materials’. Today’s textbooks6-11 predominately presume that ‘statics’ and ‘mechanics of materials’ will be taught as independent courses.

Ecole Polytechnique —pioneer of modern engineering school, had a curriculum12 in which the first two years were devoted exclusively to fundamental sciences. Engineering courses were taken

“Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Vable, M. (2003, June), Intuition, Observations, And Generalization In Mechanics Of Materials Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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