College of Architecture and Environmental Design


Architectural Engineering Department

Degree Name

BS in Architectural Engineering




Anahid A. Behrouzi


This report documents the design and implementation of several physical models and hands-on lab activities incorporated in an undergraduate structural dynamics lecture and laboratory course pairing offered at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in the Architectural Engineering department during the Winter 2018 quarter. In previous quarters, the laboratory course has lacked opportunities for students to conduct their own physical experiments and has consisted primarily of MATLAB programming activities. Efforts to illustrate the dynamic behavior of various structures have primarily involved instructor demonstrations or online videos.

The addition of physical models in the Winter 2018 offering promotes an engaging learning environment where students:

• Learn to collect acceleration data for free or forced vibration tests using an accelerometer application on a smartphone and generate plots of this data using MATLAB

• Conduct free vibration tests on various single-degree of freedom (SDOF) systems to investigate how mass, stiffness/height, material type, and damping type (pendulum or sloshing damper) effect structural period and damping

• Observe and analyze data from forced vibration tests using a small-scale shake table or eccentric mass shaker for various SDOF systems, diaphragms, and multi-story frames to understand natural frequency, dynamic amplification, and mode shapes

• Carry out a parametric study using a MATLAB tool that animates modal and time history response of a rigid diaphragm to investigate impacts of mass, geometry, and stiffness of this system type

Student feedback was collected via a survey at the end of the Winter 2018 quarter, and the responses were largely positive. In general, these results indicate that observing the dynamic response of physical structural models, collecting and processing data, and comparing the results to theoretical predictions is highly immersive and encourages students to develop their engineering intuition, rather than memorize equations or procedures.

The overarching aim of this report is to provide engineering educators at other institutions with a guide document on potential new curricula they could incorporate to achieve a balance of technical rigor and engaging activities in an undergraduate structural dynamics course. Detailed laboratory assignment handouts, sample data analysis (calculations and plots), as well as model fabrication drawings are included. Additional materials, such as sample MATLAB code and data files can be requested via email from the research team.