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Simulating Complex Systems In Introductory Dynamics

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Improving Statics and Dynamics

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1118.1 - 10.1118.7

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Paper Authors

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Kurt DeGoede

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

Session: 3268

Simulating Complex Systems in Introductory Dynamics

Kurt M. DeGoede Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA


In my past offerings of courses in dynamics, I felt that the problems I assigned were all of a rather idealized nature. We seemed to make numerous assumptions in all the problems and only analyzed one or two moving parts and usually only analyzed the problem at one particular instant in time. The students have certainly found these assignments challenging, but I couldn’t help but feel many students left the course wondering how practicing engineers analyzed “real” dynamic systems. It seems my sense was not unique, as recently as 6 years ago an in-depth study of 12 engineering programs found “computers are usually not used effectively in undergraduate engineering science courses. Often, they are not used at all” [1].

In order to open up an introductory dynamics course to less idealized analysis than is typical in the text books, I have included several problems requiring numerical differentiation and other numerical analysis assignments culminating in a multi-body simulation project. These activities were designed with several goals: • Introduce students to the types of tools used in practice. • Allow students to work on more realistic problems of particular interest to them. • Require the students to make their own appropriate and justified simplifying assumptions. • Require the students to think more broadly about application of the course material. • Help the students develop mechanical intuition and visualization as with other canned simulations [2].

The simulation project accounted for 10% of the final grade in the course. These projects were done by the students in parallel with the more typical assignments, in what the students consider a very demanding course. Several aspects of these assignments worked very well and other aspects were unsuccessful.

The students were encouraged to use numerical differentiation frequently throughout the course. The text used for the course was Thornton and Marion Classical Dynamics: of particles and systems, 5th Edition. Brooks/Cole - Thompson, 2004. This text included several problems well suited to numerical integration of the differential equations of motion. This type of analysis was done using MATLAB® © 2003, MathWorks Natick, Massachusetts. In particular, the students analyzed several problems using the function ode45.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

DeGoede, K. (2005, June), Simulating Complex Systems In Introductory Dynamics Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon.

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