Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Crash Safety in the Introductory Physics LabAbstractIn the field of vehicle occupant protection and crash safety, the Deceleration Sled offersresearchers a controlled, repeatable, and relatively cost-effective means to test interior parts suchas safety restraint systems. The sled can accelerate a 2000 lb payload to achieve a speed of 40 mph before a hydraulically controlled deceleration models the deformation of the vehiclestructure during a crash. Understanding the dynamics of the sled and interpreting test resultsincorporates many of the core concepts of a first course in introductory physics. This applicationof physics principles is the inspiration for development and dissemination of curricular materials,appropriate for an introductory physics laboratory. Commonly available apparatus is put to thetask: a low-friction cart on a track, with position and force sensors, accelerometers, and videoanalysis (using a low-cost webcam).This project will integrate the context of crash safety with current pedagogical techniquesdeveloped and proven in physics education research. The curricular materials have two goals: tohelp college and university students see the relevance of fundamental physics in engineering andpractical applications, and to help these students learn concepts in physics more effectively anddeeply. Activities address topics of motion, forces, energy, and momentum with pedagogy basedin a guided inquiry/discovery model for lab instruction. Common misconceptions established inphysics education research will be addressed intentionally, as students are encouraged to predict,test, and reflect on results. A library of video clips will be assembled and disseminated throughthe project web site, as well as editable curriculum materials.Assessment of the deployed activities in focus-group-type interviews and anonymous surveyshas led to better understanding of students’ needs in an inquiry-based laboratory. Also, widelyused instruments (the Force Concept Inventory and the Maryland Physics Expectation Survey)are included in the assessment phase of this project.

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Presented at Innovations in Teaching Physics or Engineering Physics I. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0736766.


© 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Posted with permission.