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Scientific Thinking and the Logic of Environmental Engineering Experiments

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division: Engagement, Experiential Learning, and Balance

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Veera Gnaneswar Gude P.E. Mississippi State University

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Veera Gnaneswar Gude is a faculty member of civil and environmental engineering department at Mississippi State University. He has degrees in chemical (B.S.) and environmental engineering (M.S., Ph.D.) disciplines with over 10 years of academic, industrial, and research experiences on various chemical and environmental engineering projects. He is a licensed professional engineer and a board certified environmental engineer. His passion for teaching continues for over 10 years since his graduate school. He has been active with ASEE and educational research for over 10 years. He is particularly interested in enhancing critical thinking skills among civil engineering students through various educational approaches. His research interests include water and wastewater treatment, desalination, and algal biofuels.

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Scientific thinking allows one to approach engineering problems by asking clear and well-thought-out questions. Because environmental engineering is based on applied scientific principles (knowledge from science, i.e. chemistry, mathematics and physics), scientific thinking can be very crucial in developing a deeper understanding of the subject matter. It seeks for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness of the subject of interest. This paper discusses student responses in an Environmental Engineering Laboratory class, where they were given a set of questions formulated in “The Logic of Experiment” format to promote scientific thinking. This research activity is based on the hypothesis that scientific thinking exercises provide opportunities for students to improve their metacognitive abilities by asking clear questions about scientific/engineering problems that are otherwise not addressed in regular laboratory experiments or setups. These exercises also help students to apply core concepts of environmental science in a systematic manner to solve environmental engineering problems.

“The Logic of an Experiment” exercises were implemented in an undergraduate junior level environmental engineering laboratory course (CE 3801) in fall 2015. Students were asked to complete two scientific exercises (I and II) on a voluntary basis. These exercises were provided to students while they were working on actual laboratory experiments, to improve the quality of their learning experience and to increase the relevance of the subject to their experiments. In addition, another exercise (exercise III) was developed in form of a survey toward the end of the semester to evaluate students’ understanding of scientific thinking in the nine critical areas listed earlier to evaluate their current knowledge on the topic. The summary of the student responses from scientific thinking exercises I and II and from the survey (exercise III) questions are discussed. Results from exercises I and II suggested that “logic of experiment” exercise along with guiding information in multiple attempts can help instill scientific thinking in environmental engineering students. Results from the survey suggested that by implementing “The Logic of an Experiment” exercise during laboratory sessions, the quality of student learning could be improved. It is also imperative that continuing this exercise beyond laboratory sessions will further enhance problem solving skills in students’ professional lives.

Gude, V. G. (2016, June), Scientific Thinking and the Logic of Environmental Engineering Experiments Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26148

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