Professor brings the coast to students with ‘beach wave tank’

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013 9:46 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
College of DuPage Assistant Professor Diana Strode (second from left) uses the beach wave tank she designed to demonstrate the effects of waves on sand formations for students in her introductory oceanography course.

GLEN ELLYN – Thanks to the efforts of Assistant Professor Diana Strode, College of DuPage students in her introductory oceanography course can travel to the coast without leaving their Midwestern classroom.

Using a 4-by-7.5-foot Plexiglas tank she designed, Strode demonstrates the effects of wave conditions on sand formations and gives students the opportunity for hands-on learning.

“It benefits students who have never had the opportunity to be on a beach or be on a riverbank to see what’s going on,” Strode said.

Waves are created in the “beach wave tank” using a drill that moves a paddle in the water. Strode is able to adjust the speed of the drill to create varying wave conditions, from a calm day at the beach to a tropical storm.

“It gives them a unique opportunity to see the transportation of sediments, the wave processes, in a controlled lab setting – where it isn’t all theory and they aren’t just hearing about it – they can actually see it happening,” said Tom Schrader, associate dean for math and physical sciences.

The tank is modeled after a similar device at San Diego State University, although Strode made some modifications to the design, including a drain that removes water from the tank and scaffolding that allows her to create scenarios with shores at different inclines.

In the past, Strode used plastic storage tubs that were smaller than the tank and limited current formation. Students had to manually create waves using putty knives, making it difficult for them to observe the waves’ effects on the sand at the same time.

Today, students still have the opportunity to get their hands dirty, creating their own sand formations.

Although Strode only uses the tank for the introductory oceanography class, she invites other professors in the earth science program to use it for their classes, as well. Teachers from local elementary, middle and high schools also are welcome to teach with it.

After working on the design and construction of the tank for six years, Strode introduced the device to students in fall 2011.

Mortenson Construction built the tank, offering free labor and materials.

Strode has worked at the College of DuPage for about 15 years and developed the courses she teaches in oceanography and hydrology.

Before teaching, Strode spent about 14 years in the solid and hazardous waste industry, focusing on groundwater monitoring and protection.

Strode didn’t wake up one morning knowing she wanted a career that focused on water, she said. Instead, she discovered that it interested her over time.

“It’s a journey,” Strode said. “It’s something that evolves.”

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