NMT Professors "Tune In" to Teaching about Metals, Jan. 20

Tuning forks

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., Jan. 20, 2006 – Two New Mexico Tech materials engineering professors have developed a tuneful method of teaching students about the physical properties of different metals by using custom-made sets of tuning forks machined from various alloys.

While the U-shaped prongs would seem more appropriate for music lessons, Tech professors David Burleigh and Paul Fuierer have been using the tuning forks to give their students a better feel for the different densities, atomic weights, elastic moduli (stiffness), and melting points of the metals being studied.

“Differences can be felt in the weight and flexibility of each of the tuning forks,” said Burleigh, “and heard from the differences in resonant frequency, harmonics, and dampening of the different forks. . . . Each of the tuning forks has a distinctive ring.”

The two prototype sets of 18 tuning forks the New Mexico Tech professors developed for their materials engineering courses have been used for numerous hands-on demonstrations in classrooms at the research university, as well as in high schools throughout New Mexico as part of Tech’s science outreach programs.

“By handling the tuning forks, the students use their hands and ears — in addition to their eyes — to comprehend differences in the metals,” Burleigh said.

Burleigh and Fuierer had a research paper detailing the use of tuning forks in their classrooms published in a recent issue of The Journal of Metals. The article, titled “Tuning Forks for Vibrant Teaching,” is available on the Internet at www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/0511/Burleigh-0511.html.

As a result of the recent publication, Burleigh and Fuierer have received inquiries from educators interested in purchasing their own similar sets of tuning forks.

“The use of the tuning forks in the university classroom and with high school outreach programs has been successful and is ongoing,” the New Mexico Tech professors wrote in their research paper.

“By handling tuning forks made from various metals, the students can see, hear, and feel the differences in properties,” Burleigh and Fuierer wrote. “The use of several senses reinforces the learning and makes it much more enjoyable than reading about the metals’ properties in a textbook.”