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Waves of Engineering: Using a mini-wave flume to foster engineering literacy

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

New Approaches and Applications to Enhance Technological Literacy - Part I

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1362.1 - 23.1362.12



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Paper Authors


Alicia L Lyman-Holt Oregon State University

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Ms. Lyman-Holt has been the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory since 2005. She manages and leads the diverse outreach and education programing at the laboratory which serves over 5000 visitors per year, including K-12 students, undergraduate, graduate students, media outlets and the general public. She also takes the mini-flume “on the road” to large public events, such as Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Engineering Week Family day , both in Washington DC, training and working with volunteers to broaden the reach of the programing about coastal engineering outreach, particularly tsunamis. She is dedicated to increasing engineering literacy among the general public, and interest in STEM among K-12 students. She holds a BS in from Whitman College, and MS from Oregon State University.

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Laia Cari Robichaux Oregon State University

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Ms. Robichaux is a doctoral student at Oregon State University in the Environmental Sciences program. Her research focus is how free-choice learning venues such as science centers present socially-controversial science.
She holds a B.S. in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University at Galveston, and a M.S. in Science Education from Oregon State University.

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Waves of Engineering: Using a mini-wave flume to foster engineering literacyThe 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami brought to the attention of the world the potential fordevastation by tsunami. Since that event, tsunamis in Indonesia, Chile and Japan have causedmassive loss of life and property. These events create an interest in learning about tsunamiswhich translates to an opportunity to teach the general public about engineering and potentiallyincrease their engineering literacy. This interest and public education opportunity is partially metby a large and dynamic tsunami 35,000 sq. foot research facility with a vibrant visitor programthat serves over 5000 people annually, who are mostly local to the facility. Reaching morepeople from a larger geographic area is a desirable outcome, but is limited by the stationarynature of the large wave tanks. A miniature version of the tsunami research tanks was developedin conjunction with a hands-on engineering activity for families, to provide a mobile experiencewith tsunami research. The miniature tank is a 16’ long, 18” high, 6” wide clear acrylic tank,with a beach at one end and a wave maker at the other to create a tsunami-like wave. Legos areused by participants to build a structure that will protect a Lego “person” from the wave. Theactivity takes between 10 and 30 minutes including introductory technical background and buildtime. This activity was presented at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in the summer of 2012,as part of their exhibit on Land Grant Universities.The goal of the mini-flume activity is to increase the interest in science and engineering byparticipants. At the Folklife Festival over 5000 participants were served during the 10 day eventand we collected 104 evaluation surveys. Using a 5-point Likert survey, we measured awarenessof: coastal hazards/tsunamis; interest in learning more about costal hazards and engineering;engineering challenges, and advanced engineering concepts. Our results show a generallypositive response to this activity about awareness and increased interest in coastal engineering.For example 49% of our respondents felt their awareness of “how engineering makes my lifesafer” had increased or greatly increased. Our paper will discuss how we developed our activity,how we used this “charismatic” activity to draw people in, its impact on the participants, andhow we might improve it for future use. We will also provide our general insights about how todevelop a hands-on activity based on current on-going engineering research. Finally for ourfuture work we will discuss more accessible variations that might be useful for teachers and indifferent settings.Figure 1: Photo of "tsunami" in mini-wave flume with Legos, photo by co-author

Lyman-Holt, A. L., & Robichaux, L. C. (2013, June), Waves of Engineering: Using a mini-wave flume to foster engineering literacy Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22747

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