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Starting with the A-Ha: An Integrated Introduction to Solid and Fluid Mechanics

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Mechanics of Materials

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1394.1 - 26.1394.15



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Paper Authors


Jenn Stroud Rossmann Lafayette College

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Jenn Stroud Rossmann is Associate Professor and Department Head of Mechanical Engineering at Lafayette College. She earned her BS in mechanical engineering and the PhD in applied physics from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining Lafayette, she was a faculty member at Harvey Mudd College. Her scholarly interests include the fluid dynamics of blood in vessels affected by atherosclerosis and aneurysm, the cultural history of engineering, and the aerodynamics of sports projectiles.

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Clive L. Dym Harvey Mudd College

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Clive L. Dym is Professor Emeritus of Engineering at Harvey Mudd College. His primary interests are in engineering design and applied and structural mechanics. Dr. Dym received the PhD from Stanford University and has held appointments at a variety of schools, institute and companies over a 46 year. He has authored or coauthored 19 books and 96 refereed journal articles, and has served on the editorial boards of several journals. He is a Fellow of the ASEE, ASCE and ASME. Dr. Dym’s awards include the Fred Merryfield Design Award (ASEE, 2002), the Joel and Ruth Spira Outstanding Design Educator Award (ASME, 2004), the Archie Higdon Distinguished Educator Award (Mechanics Division, ASEE, 2006), and being a co-winner of the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education (NAE, 2012).

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Lori Bassman Harvey Mudd College

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Starting with the a-ha: An integrated introduction to solid and fluid mechanicsWe have developed an introduction to continuum mechanics for sophomore studentswithout any prior knowledge of mechanics. The essence of continuum mechanics, theinternal response of materials to external loading, is often obscured by the complexmathematics of its formulation. By building gradually from one- to two- and three-dimensional formulations, we are able to make the essence of the subject more accessibleto undergraduates. From this gradual development of ideas, with many illustrative real-world case studies, students develop both physical intuition for how solids and fluidsbehave, and the mathematical techniques needed to begin to describe this behavior. Atthe same time they gain a unique appreciation for the connections between solid and fluidmechanics. These connections are often only revealed to advanced undergraduates andgraduate students who elect to study continuum mechanics, when a curtain is pulled backto reveal the a-ha – the similarities between solids’ and fluids’ governing equations, andthe connections between their constitutive laws. In our approach, we start with this a-ha.Through this approach, students appreciate the behavior of engineering materials as aspectrum with Hookean solids at one extreme, and Newtonian fluids at another, withmany complex behaviors in between. This perspective is particularly valuable forstudents interested in biological applications, as the complex behaviors of biomaterialsare thus part of the spectrum of engineering material behavior from the beginning, ratherthan afterthoughts or exceptions to the rules made for more traditional materials. Ourapproach demonstrates the connections between solid and fluid mechanics, as well as thelarger mathematical issues shared by both fields, to students who have not yet takencourses in fluid mechanics and/or strength of materials. The context and foundationprovided by this educational strategy are available to students as they continue to studyeither solid or fluid mechanics, or specialize in the connections themselves by returningto a deeper study of the overarching field of continuum mechanics.A key aspect of our implementation is the integration of multiple case studies, involvingthe application of course material in relevant real-world situations from the design ofbiomedical devices to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In addition todemonstrating the utility of the modeling and analysis methods taught, these case studiesaddress ethical and societal issues. Like the continuum a-ha, these issues are introducedas a natural part of engineering mechanics from the very beginning, and our students’ability to appreciate and negotiate these issues continues to develop throughout theirsubsequent coursework.We describe the development and implementation of this approach at one institution, andhow we resolved the challenges involved in transferring the approach to a secondinstitution. We discuss several refinements to our methodology that resulted frombroadening our audience. Assessment results from over 10 years, at two institutions, areevaluated and interpreted.

Rossmann, J. S., & Dym, C. L., & Bassman, L. (2015, June), Starting with the A-Ha: An Integrated Introduction to Solid and Fluid Mechanics Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24731

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