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From Trusses to Trebuchets: Bringing the Classroom to Life

CEE's David Schaad takes class demonstrations to new heights

David Schaad discusses the engineering behind trebuchets On Friday afternoon, David Schaad, a professor of the practice in the civil and environmental engineering department at Duke University, added a new twist to his EGR 201L: Mechanics of Solids class, deviating from traditional lecture to show his students how to launch a trebuchet. For the past few weeks, his students have been learning about unbalanced moments, beam bending and shear flow; Schaad wanted his students to see how all those concepts are considered and applied to create working tools.

“I think a lot of times it’s hard to see the things you learn in class in application. What is learned in class is cerebral. To connect that to something you can actually do is meaningful,” Schaad explained.

Students agreed with Schaad’s reasoning. A refreshing change from the usual PowerPoints and practice problems, the trebuchet launch truly helped to deepen their understanding of everything they were learning in class.

“It’s easy to stop caring when you’re just looking at abstract trusses. But to watch it all come together and fling apples at the LSRC is really cool. It’s also really amazing that people so long ago invented these machines without the same extensive knowledge of shear flow and equilibrium equations,” one student said.

Engineering is all about applying theory to solve or ameliorate problems. For Schaad, demonstrating those applications helps to remind students that what they are learning in class is meaningful, and this helps to motivate them to understand material for more than just getting a good grade. 

David Schaad sets up his engineering demonstration