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SPIRAL Laboratories in the First-Year Mechanical Engineering Curriculum

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

ELOS Best Paper Nominations

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1320.1 - 22.1320.14



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Paper Authors


Debra J. Mascaro University of Utah

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Debra J. Mascaro is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She holds a B.A. in Physics from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She teaches freshman design and senior-/graduate-level classes in microscale
engineering and organic electronics.

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Stacy Bamberg University of Utah

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Stacy J. Morris Bamberg is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She received her S.B. and S.M. in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her Sc.D. in Medical Engineering from the joint Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. She teaches the required freshman design sequence, the required junior mechatronics sequence, and electives in musculoskeletal functional anatomy for engineers and medical instrumentation and physiology. She is interested in the use of technology in the classroom and improving student outcomes through hands-on and interactive experiences.

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R. Roemer University of Utah

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SPIRAL Laboratories in the First-Year Mechanical Engineering CurriculumAs a primary part of realizing a Student-driven Pedagogy of Integrated, Reinforced, ActiveLearning (SPIRAL) throughout our Mechanical Engineering curriculum, we are implementingnew laboratory experiences in the first and second years of our program. This paper will focus onthe laboratories for our new, required first-year course sequence, in which the traditional topicsof design methodology and computer programming are taught in the context of robotic andmechatronic systems. The laboratories encompass software, mechanical and electrical hardware,and manufacturing, with content driven by the semester-long team-based robotic/mechatronicdesign projects.The general format of the laboratory meetings is a one-hour tutorial followed by a two-hourlesson. During the hour-long Excel® (fall) or MATLAB® (spring) tutorials, students completeintroductory problems with the help of their teaching assistant, and then start working on theirmore in-depth homework assignment if time remains. In the fall, the two-hour lessons coverhand-drawing, computer-aided design using SolidWorks®, engineering topics including springs,pulleys, gears, friction and traction, and manufacturing topics including safety, hand tools,waterjet cutting and sheet metal bending. Some lab time is also dedicated to communications,where students give presentations and meet with graduate communication instructors to discusswriting, oral presentations and teamwork. In the spring, the two-hour lessons include anintroduction to electronics and programming using the Arduino® microcontroller platform,mechanical and electromechanical hardware topics including fourbar linkages, motors, solenoidsand sensors, and advanced SolidWorks and communication instruction.The mechanical/electromechanical hardware labs are designed to give students hands-onexperience that is directly related to the required design project. For example, the fall projectinvolves the design and construction of a mechanically-powered autonomous machine/vehicle,and the students learn how to characterize the static and rolling friction of their vehicles in thefriction lab. In spring semester, the students design an electro-mechanically actuatedmachine/vehicle, and the hardware labs have the students build and test solenoids andcharacterize torque-speed curves of provided motors. Students also synthesize, model (inSolidWorks®), prototype and manufacture (using the waterjet cutter) a fourbar linkage that is arequired element of their device.The laboratories that focus on introductory electronics and Arduino® are taught in the spring,before our students have taken either second-semester physics (electro-magnetism) or therequired introductory electrical engineering class. Thus, for the introductory electronics, thefocus is on basic techniques such as using prototyping breadboards, soldering wires and printedcircuit boards, constructing connectors, and investigating simple circuits and components. Allstudents receive an Arduino®, and in teams, the students build a custom-designed shield boardfor use in the lab and the design project.We expect that the integrated laboratory experiences in our first-year mechanical engineeringclasses will improve the students’ understanding and retention of fundamental engineeringprinciples through the coupling of hands-on laboratory learning with design-based learning. Wewill assess this outcome at the start of the junior year by a competency exam in our Mechatronicsclass. We also anticipate increased student retention, which will be assessed by tracking whichstudents eventually register for Mechatronics.

Mascaro, D. J., & Bamberg, S., & Roemer, R. (2011, June), SPIRAL Laboratories in the First-Year Mechanical Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18688

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