June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Engineering Physics & Physics
26.1357.1 - 26.1357.12
Scientific Foundations of Engineering: A New Curricular Model for Engineering EducationTradition physics undergraduate education has used a “spiral curriculum” method: mechanics,statistical and thermal physics, electromagnetics, and quantum physics are introduced in afreshman-level survey course; each of these subjects is covered again at a higher level insophomore and junior level courses; and selected topics are revisited in senior-level “specialtopic” or advanced study courses. This model allows for deepening understanding of each topicand the application of more sophisticated mathematical methods – such as complex analysis,differential equations, integral transforms, matrix methods, and linear algebra – as the students’mathematics preparation progresses. In addition, the connections between each subfield ofphysics become apparent from the early survey courses and from the application of similaradvanced mathematical techniques at each level of coverage.In contrast, most engineering students take all of their basic physics and chemistry duringfreshman year in survey courses which are commonly perceived to be unpopular hurdles into thestudy of engineering. After this early cursory exposure to the science, engineering studentsspend the rest of their undergraduate education focusing on the details of electrical, mechanical,civil, or chemical engineering in which applications take precedence over scientific foundationsto the extent that electrical engineers, for example, typically assume that Kirchhoff’s voltage lawis always true despite its obvious violation of Faraday’s law of induced EMF. The danger of thispremature specialization of engineering education becomes apparent when engineers from onediscipline work in teams with engineers from other disciplines and find they have no commonunderstanding of problems outside of their own engineering discipline.The authors will describe their experience in teaching an advanced survey course on the physicalscience foundations of engineering to graduate engineering students in an engineering leadershipprogram, and make a case for such a course in junior or senior-year engineering curricula. Sinceavailable physics texts are not well-designed for the target audience of advanced engineeringstudents, the authors have written a draft text Scientific Foundations of Engineering, which hasbeen accepted for publication early next year by Cambridge University Press. Advancedengineering students have often used sophisticated mathematical techniques in their disciplinarytraining to treat phenomena such as harmonic oscillator resonances in mechanical systems andelectromagnetic response of materials. In our course, and in our pending book, such similarphenomena that cross disciplines are treated in a unified manner, showing the conceptualconnection between them. A large section of the course and book involve an introduction toquantum physics, a topic missing from most engineering curricula despite the critical role ofsemiconductor band theory, for example, in all modern electronics. Both the class and the texthave been informed by our experience that engineers respond well to theory illustrated byexamples – particularly examples with an engineering flavor.
McKnight, S. W., & Zahopoulos, C. (2015, June), Scientific Foundations of Engineering: A New Curricular Model for Engineering Education Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24694
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