Development of learning modules to teach instrumentation to Biological Systems Engineering students using MATLAB

P. Kumar Mallikarjunan, Kevin Richter, Lauren Brookmire, Dan Lluch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


The Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) Department at Virginia Tech is undergoing significant curriculum change through implementation of a spiral theme based curriculum. The primary focus of the spiral curriculum is to provide opportunities for learning in repeating themes based on authentic problems in the profession of engineering with increasing complexity over the years. One outcome (theme) is the ability to control processes and systems and to address that we are developing learning modules that could be implemented from freshmen to senior year in the curriculum. Majority of the activities will be grouped into an instrumentation course and overall objective of this paper is to describe the development of laboratory modules for measurement and control and implementation of the same through the course "Instrumentation in Biological Systems Engineering". This is a core BSE course that all BSE students will take with an average the enrollment of 30 students. Currently MATLAB is being taught at freshmen (Introduction to Engineering) and sophomore years (Numerical methods course). As MATLAB is being considered as one of the standard software tool in Engineering programs, it would be logical to use the same for the instrumentation course as well, instead of learning new software. MATLAB can be used to communicate with data acquisition and control to measure temperature, pressure, flow and stress in biological systems and/or bioprocess operations. However, the laboratory modules that were conducted have not used MATLAB and required extensive development of such activities (learning outcomes, assessment, and implementation of the activity and hand-on exercises) to implement a spiral theme based approach to instrumentation in the curriculum. The primary goal of the course development is to implement a meaningful learning experience for students with design of instrumentation for measurement and control through laboratory hands-on exercises. A repeat enforcement of concepts with increasing complexity (spiraling) with authentic problems within a course and across the curriculum will provide a best learning environment. In this regard, using tools like MATLAB for problem solving, numerical simulation and acquisition from and control of instrumentation systems will make a connectedness with learning activities. We identified several laboratory modules, namely, temperature measurement using thermocouple, thermistor, pressure measurement using a pressure probe, velocity measurement using velocity probes and stress measurement using strain gauge. All measurements in the lab used breadboard connected to a data acquisition board (DAQ). The voltage or current data acquired is transformed to engineering units of temperature, pressure, velocity, flow and force with appropriate implementation of transfer functions and is reported to the students in those engineering units. Steps included development of MATLAB (.m) files and GUIs for various operations (data acquisition, data processing, display of results and instrument simulation). The student learning progress was evaluated through pre- and post- test and the tests evaluated both instrumentation concepts and MATLAB applications. Based on the data collected over three implementation cycles (2009, 2010 and 2011), the results indicate that the student see the connectivity in using engineering tools like MATLAB for variety of applications: algorithm development, problem solving, numerical simulation and for measurement and control of instruments. This paper will provide the lessons learned in spiral theme based curriculum development with an emphasis on controlling biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
ISBN (Print)9780878232413
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Event119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - San Antonio, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 10 2012Jun 13 2012

Publication series

NameASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Electronic)2153-5965


Other119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Antonio, TX


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