2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Inspiring Future Engineers: Teaching Basic Electronics to Create Theremin-Based Musical Instruments

Presented at Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 9

To encourage high school students’ interest in electronics and electrical engineering, team projects can be designed that involve adapting and integrating circuits to construct unique musical instruments. The Theremin was one of the first electronic instruments, and has the unusual appeal of being played without touch by interaction with the invisible capacitance fields established around the device’s antennae. Theremin circuit designs exist that can be assembled by novices and easily adapted for creative variations in design. The basic principles of electrical circuitry and troubleshooting can be taught to students with no prior electronics experience in a very short time. The students have a direct sense of accomplishment when they can demonstrate a working Theremin-based device and can display their musical talents with a performance while also being able to explain the technical internal functionality. This paper presents several iterations of the Theremin project that have been attempted over the past two decades at a summer science camp for high school students. The most successful designs are showcased along with the teaching methodology that produced them. The project was designed to teach students about engineering research, teamwork, and electrical engineering principles. To assess the outcomes, the journal papers written by the teams of high school students and feedback from former students who are now engineers were analyzed. The student’s papers show that every year the project resulted in a circuit that could at least produce sound. The students surveyed overwhelmingly considered the project an influentially positive experience. Former students consistently reported that the greatest impact was not just the electronics education, but also the team engineering experience, which proved beneficial as preparation for a career in engineering.

  1. Dr. Benjamin Reed Campbell Robert Morris University [biography]

The full paper will be available to logged in and registered conference attendees once the conference starts on June 24, 2017, and to all visitors after the conference ends on June 28, 2018

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For those interested in:

  • Broadening Participation in Engineering and Engineering Technology
  • K-12