“Hands-on activities are crucial for proper education of engineers. Some students who get bored in a formal lecture setting, after gaining a personal hands-on experience related to a subject, suddenly become the most interested ones!” – Dr. Mehrdaad Ghorashi, Assistant Professor of Mechnical Engineering
Dr. Mehrdaad Ghorashi, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Jacob Finley, a mechanical engineering major, have had a paper accepted for publication and presentation at the 120th national American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The paper is entitled "The Effective use of an Undergraduate Research Fellowship for Design and Manufacture of Tools to Assist in Teaching Strength of Materials" and explains the activities of Jacob Finley who was awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship (URF) in the summer of 2012 under the supervision of Dr. Ghorashi.
As a result of this fellowship, among other activities, four devices have been designed, fabricated and tested. The first one measures the modulus of elasticity and Poisson’s ratio of metallic samples. Performing this experiment provides a long-lasting understanding for students about what the physical meanings of modulus of elasticity and Poisson’s ratio are. In another part of this activity, a test setup was built to demonstrate a very fundamental theorem, i.e. Maxwell’s Reciprocity theorem. This test provides students with a physical understanding of the theorem, helps them grasp what it really means and examine its validity. Next, by building another test setup and measuring the corresponding shear strain values in torsion, the behavior of closed and open thin-walled members were compared. Finally, a test setup for analyzing stress patterns in a sample using photoelasticity was built.
The experimental devices that Jacob built during his fellowship are now being extensively used in teaching strength of materials and design of machine elements courses in the mechanical engineering program at USM. Dr. Ghorashi believes that such hands-on activities are crucial for proper education of engineers. Some students who get bored in a formal lecture setting, after gaining a personal hands-on experience related to a subject, suddenly become the most interested ones! The reason is because students observe that what they study in the lectures is not just intangible theory—the final outcomes, in fact, have realistic meanings that can be tested, touched and seen. A teacher can then use this momentum for helping students understand the related theories and formulations as well. Such experiences also provide a means for comparing theoretical and experimental results. The received feedback from students has been positive and most of them have expressed that they enjoy learning the course material much more if it is accompanied with such hands-on activities.