Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Crash Safety in the Introductory Physics Lab Abstract In the field of vehicle occupant protection and crash safety, the Deceleration Sled offers researchers a controlled, repeatable, and relatively cost-effective means to test interior parts such as 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 vehicle structure during a crash. Understanding the dynamics of the sled and interpreting test results incorporates many of the core concepts of a first course in introductory physics. This application of physics principles is the inspiration for development and dissemination of curricular materials,appropriate for an introductory physics laboratory. Commonly available apparatus is put to the task: a low-friction cart on a track, with position and force sensors, accelerometers, and video analysis (using a low-cost webcam).This project will integrate the context of crash safety with current pedagogical techniques developed and proven in physics education research. The curricular materials have two goals: to help college and university students see the relevance of fundamental physics in engineering and practical applications, and to help these students learn concepts in physics more effectively and deeply. Activities address topics of motion, forces, energy, and momentum with pedagogy based in a guided inquiry/discovery model for lab instruction. Common misconceptions established in physics 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 through the project web site, as well as editable curriculum materials.Assessment of the deployed activities in focus-group-type interviews and anonymous surveys has led to better understanding of students’ needs in an inquiry-based laboratory. Also, widely used 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.