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Models, Models, Models: The Use Of Physical Models To Enhance The Structural Engineering Experience.

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.413.1 - 3.413.9



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Douglas G. Schmucker

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

Session 3615

Models, Models, Models: The Use of Physical Models to Enhance the Structural Engineering Experience.

Douglas G. Schmucker The Pennsylvania State University


The increasing use of the computer in both the workplace and the classroom brings with it many dangers in addition to many exciting opportunities. In structural engineering, the user of analysis and design programs must also visualize and understand the physical "structural reality" to properly use the programs. Physical models have been integrated into the curricula of four structural engineering courses to enhance the “physical” understanding of both classical and numerical techniques and programs. The five models described herein were specifically developed for both in-class and out-of-class demonstrations and exercises. Photographs and student comments accompany the descriptions. Student response has been positive. Address to a web site is included for additional descriptions, photographs, and student comments.


Significant advancements have been achieved in recent years in the visualization and animation capabilities of computer-based structural analysis and design programs. These computer programs and the necessary hardware bring with them their own costs, however, costs that are not necessarily measured in monetary units. One particular concern is that as students become increasingly competent with computers, their understanding and comprehension of “structural reality” may suffer.

This author firmly believes that physical models are an essential part of a balanced structural engineering curriculum.† This belief is particularly made firmer in light of the increasing use of computers in all facets of engineering practice and education. Physical models also appeal to different modes of learning. Testing laboratories traditionally provided opportunities for “hands- on” learning yet are expensive in both equipment, space, and labor needs. At the University of Alberta, eleven short demonstrations of basic fluid mechanics principles have been developed for 50 minute seminar sessions as an alternative to full scale lab experiments. These demonstrations were specifically intended to “fill the gap between teaching resources and learning needs.”1

In a paper focused on an undergraduate steel design course, Meyer,, stated that “to fully understand a particular design strength equation, the student must also understand (and be able to visualize) the associated structural behavior.” Those authors further stated that they “believed

† For the purposes of this paper, the author limits the discussion to the structural engineering field but believes the argument could easily be generalized.

Schmucker, D. G. (1998, June), Models, Models, Models: The Use Of Physical Models To Enhance The Structural Engineering Experience. Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--7291

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