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Smart Rockets: A Hands On Introduction To Interdisciplinary Engineering

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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

Teaching Design Through Projects

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1019.1 - 8.1019.12



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Paper Authors

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James Bales

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Thomas Consi

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

Session 1353

Smart Rockets: A Hands-on Introduction to Interdisciplinary Engineering

James W. Bales and Thomas R. Consi

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstract Model rockets have inspired generations of students to pursue careers in engineering and science. Indeed, many current engineering educators have probably gone through a rocket phase in their formative years. Model rockets are popular with young aspiring engineers for good reason, they are exciting, fun to build and launch and they offer a number of significant engineering challenges that can be tackled with simple tools and small budgets. We have created a Freshman seminar subject at MIT in which the students build and modify a kit-based model rocket. In parallel we discuss the elements of rocket physics and guide them in creating their own predictions of the what the acceleration curve should look like for the rockets. Their goal for the term is to collect the data needed to test their predictions. To accomplish it, they build a compact microcontroller circuit that can log acceleration at 1,000 samples per second. During the term, the students learn the basics of programming the microcontroller and explore its uses in the laboratory. At the end of the term, the class goes to a large open area, launches the rockets, and returns with data. The subject concludes with the students comparing their observations to their predictions, complete with a discussion of possible error sources and analysis, and recommendations for future work.

Rationale and Goals Students at MIT do not declare a major during their first year at the Institute. Instead, they take a standard set of eight subjects over two semesters and have the option of taking one seminar subject (graded on a pass/fail basis) each semester. None of the core first-year subjects include a laboratory component (with the exception of an optional physics section). There are many reasons why the Institute chose this approach, but its drawbacks include: • The material from core subjects (particularly physics) remains theoretical and disconnected from practical engineering. • Students who want to learn what a particular field is like must wait another year before experiencing the joys (and challenges) of a particular discipline. • Students get no sense of what is involved in working on a multidisciplinary problem. • Students do not get the hands-on experience that comes from building a project.

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

Bales, J., & Consi, T. (2003, June), Smart Rockets: A Hands On Introduction To Interdisciplinary Engineering Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12050

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