Continuum Mechanics in a Restructured Engineering Undergraduate Curriculum
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The framework of the revised undergraduate engineering curriculum at Texas A&M University consists of the basic conservation principles and their application to engineering science. The conservation principles are presented in a way consistent with the Kolb learning cycle and an active approach to teaching. Utilizing these principles, a unified pedagogical process is developed, which can be applied to cover topics traditionally taught under statics, dynamics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, solid mechanics, materials science and electrical circuits. Using this instructional framework, the students can analytically solve simple engineering problems, while they learn how to formulate complex problems at early stages of their undergraduate education. Since their technical ability to analyze such complex problems is limited during their second or even third year of the undergraduate curriculum, the utilization of computer software enables them to numerically solve advanced problems in the above engineering topics. In particular, the use of the finite-element method as an enhancement tool to solve solid mechanics and heat transfer problems in a sophomore year course on continuum mechanics and more advanced problems in stress analysis in a junior level course on solid mechanics is discussed in this paper. Students use computer software to formulate and solve boundary value problems in a variety of structures, to verify analytical solutions for simple structural problems, and finally to test the various assumptions that permit approximate analyses in solid mechanics.