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Virtual Labs, Real Data For Statics, And Mechanics Of Materials

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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

Trends in Mechanics Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1280.1 - 8.1280.6

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Paper Authors

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Alan Zehnder

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

Session 1168

Virtual Labs, Real Data for Statics and Mechanics of Materials Peeyush Bhargava1, Christine Cunningham2, Michael Tolomeo1, and Alan Zehnder1 1 Cornell University / 2Tufts University

Introduction Hands-on laboratory experience is a key element in learning the concepts of engineering mechanics. Laboratory sessions provide examples that students can see, feel and hear, and provide an alternate mode of learning to those for whom reading the textbook or hearing lecture is insufficient. Labs are also used to introduce data analysis, report writing, finding empirical correlations between experimental variables and data, and to validate theory.

We are strong proponents on hands-on laboratories; they must never be eliminated from engineering education, however, hands-on laboratories are not always an option due to space, cost and time constraints. Thus other means of providing laboratory like experience are often desirable. There are currently a number of projects to develop virtual laboratories. These can be classified broadly into three categories. (1) Simulation based virtual labs that provide a software mockup of an experiment, sometimes including controls, meters and such to emulate the physical lab [1]. By changing parameters of the simulation, students can observe changes to the system. (2) Remote but physical labs in which students view, control and acquire data from a physical experiment through a web-based interface [2]. (3) Recorded experiments where students can view actual experiments and work with real data [3]. As these various concepts for virtual labs are built, tested and refined, best practices will emerge and we may see a confluence of these ideas into new virtual labs that combine aspects of the categories above with physical labs [4]. The virtual lab we are developing is of category (3), recorded data and videos of experiments. Our lab focuses on torsion of shafts of engineered and biological materials.

Project Description

The lab is designed for use in classes on mechanics of materials. In this proof of concept stage of the project we are focusing on torsion as this was the one topic for which we had no physical lab equipment available to students at Cornell. The lab is web-based and consists of (a) narrated “chalk talks” on basic theory, test equipment, and data reduction procedures, (b) “virtual experiments,” videos of the tests, including live plotting of twist-torque data, (c) extensive sets of data, and (d) a lab manual with suggested exercises and questions. An on-line quiz and a discussion board are also provided. The instructions page is shown in Figure 1. The lab is designed to be modular so that instructors can pick and choose from elements that suit their own curriculum, perhaps writing their own manual to direct students to specific aspects of the lab and to specific tasks and so that additional material can be readily added.

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

Zehnder, A. (2003, June), Virtual Labs, Real Data For Statics, And Mechanics Of Materials Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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