It's almost like magic. Tap some buttons, and the calculator adds. Press the shutter, and the camera takes a photograph. Turn the key, and the car's engine hums to life.
Dr. John Krupczak of the Hope College engineering
faculty realizes that although most of his students know how
to make such things work, they are less clear concerning why
they work. Through his popular beginning-level course
"Science and Technology of Everyday Life," in which students
build equipment from radios to keyboards, he hopes to change
all that. He wants to take the mystery out of the objects
they use daily, and in the process make them more
comfortable with science generally.
"Our daily experience is all this technology,"
said Krupczak, an assistant professor of engineering. "We
have thousands of technological items, and are in daily
contact with hundreds--the wristwatch, the alarm clock, the
car, the computer."
"So it makes sense to study this technological
world that we've built around ourselves," he said. "And
embedded in it are all the principles of science put to
"My objective is to explain to people how it works
or to give them a sense of understanding, and therefore to
increase their confidence in coping with it," Krupczak said.
The need is not unique to his students, he noted,
but exists nationwide. In a 1993 presentation titled
"Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates," David
Goodstein of the Cal Tech physics faculty even went so far
as to say that "roughly 95 percent of the American public is
consistently found to be scientifically illiterate by any
The everyday devices provide a starting point.
The students build and use their own pinhole camera, for
example, learning about "light propagation" in the process.
They construct a simple crystal radio, and learn about
"electromagnetic waves." They tear into and rebuild a four-
cylinder automobile engine, learning about its components
The laboratory complements a lecture in which the
concepts are explained more fully. The course's text is a
popular best-seller, "The Way Things Work" by David
Krupczak first offered the course--designed for
students who are not majoring in the natural or physical
sciences--in the spring of 1995. He is currently modifying
it through a 14-month, $68,210 grant from the National
Science Foundation (NSF), working with a team of student
researchers to strengthen the laboratory exercises. The
exercises will be refined during the coming 1998-99 school
In addition to using the experiments at Hope,
Krupczak hopes to have them published for others to use. He
has also spoken about his work at national professional
conferences, and had articles appear in journals such as the
American Society for Engineering Education's "Prism."
Through one of the projects being developed this
summer, each student will build a stereo speaker.
Krupczak's researchers have used sophisticated computer
software and field testing to develop a project that works
and teaches at the same time.
The components are kept as basic as possible--
including cardboard, wood blocks and common metal washers
for the speakers. The simplicity keeps the projects
manageable for beginning-level students, with a side benefit
being that the students may take many of their creations
"To make a project that meets the need of the
students is really an engineering exercise in itself," he
said. "It needs to be simple enough that they can do,
complex enough that it has meaning and also interesting
enough that there's some motivation."
"You can follow the instructions and make the
speaker work, and not learn anything about the science," he
said. "The challenge for me is to make sure that we take
this opportunity to have the students learn something about