You are the owner of this article.

North Point receives portable wave flume to study coastal processes

North Point receives innovative, portable wave flume to study coastal processes

Jack Puleo, right, University of Delaware Center for Applied Coastal Research director, gives a presentation about the portable wave flume while visiting students and staff on April 12 at North Point High School in Waldorf. The school is only one of three schools chosen in Maryland to receive the device as part of a grant program to study coastal processes.

Students at North Point High School are excited about making waves in the classroom as they put their engineering design skills to work, thanks to an innovative device called a wave flume that has taken the science curriculum by storm.

The wave flume is a portable device that models the behavior of waves and resulting effect on beaches, providing inquiry-based learning about coastal processes. The main idea is to not only “inspire, engage and educate high school students on the concepts of coastal oceanography and engineering,” but to also “provide context on naval applications,” through multiple learning modules, according to Jack Puleo who is the director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Applied Coastal Research.

“Students like to see/touch what they are learning about. The wave flume provides numerous opportunities for students to learn about coastal processes and engineering that are in line with the curriculum they would already be taught,” Puleo said in an email sent to the Maryland Independent on Thursday. “However, the apparatus provides a unique approach to inquiry-based learning where the response happens quickly so student scan see what happens after choices they make as part of their design. Some of the modules I provided are entirely open-ended with no right answer. That requires the students to think, design, test, understand, measure, compare, redesign if necessary.”

North Point was one of only three schools chosen in Maryland to receive the wave flume as part of the Making Waves in the Classroom STEM outreach program. Science teacher Lolita Kiorpes said she got involved with this grant program, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, upon meeting Puleo at a conference where he asked for volunteers to use the wave flume.

“I try to get whatever I can for students, especially if it doesn’t cost me money,” Kiorpes said. “The hope with this equipment is to give students actual hands-on practice. Students can come up with ways to improve the sustainability of coastal areas, and even come up with designs and solutions to assist with slowing down the destruction of waves — all types of waves.”

Puleo visited North Point on April 12 to put the equipment together and give a brief presentation.

As the principal investigator and a professor of civil and environmental engineering, Puleo said he began using portable wave flumes in 2005 for education outreach.

“The best aspect is the ability to rapidly see what is happening when parameters or design are changed and the ability for student to try different approaches to the same question,” Puleo emphasized, noting that the success of those initial efforts led to his current project which involves delivering wave flumes to 12 high schools along the East Coast.

The flume contains a voltage-controlled wave paddle at one end, while acetal beads are used as a sediment surrogate at the other end to create a natural beach that evolves quickly. The pedagogical benefit of enhanced mobility, Puleo explained, is that beach changes are observed in just a few minutes which allows students to immediately comprehend the resulting effect of changing the paddle speed, water level or initial morphology conditions.

Puleo said these are visual, hands-on demonstrations that allow students to see and measure what happens as waves get bigger, to include extreme weather events like tsunamis.

Multiple learning modules are designed around the wave flume apparatus, ultimately providing students with inquiry-based learning of coastal processes.

“My goal was to provide flumes to a variety of high schools in the mid-Atlantic that spread farther south than I originally intended,” said Puleo. “The students [at North Point] were super enthusiastic and helpful in setting the flume up. I talked to them for over one hour about coastal processes and received a lot of feedback and answers to my questions. I remarked to Ms. Kiorpes and my colleagues here that the students at North Point were the most responsive, engaged than any I had dealt with previously using the flume.”

With the support from the Office of Naval Research, Puleo builds the devices and provides high schools with carefully developed modules and worksheets that explain everything from how to develop equations based on the behavior of waves, to tracking their shape and speed and using that data to plot on graphs.

These innovative, fun learning practices help both math and science teachers create a variety of coastal research concepts throughout the school year.

“With the rise in extreme weather events, we’re going to need more coastal engineers to help protect beaches and coastal areas,” University of Delaware media relations manager Peter Kerwin said. “One way to inspire the next generation of would-be coastal engineers is to start building wave flumes and giving them to high schools up and down the East Coast from Florida to New Jersey.”

For more information about this project, go to

To get in touch with Puleo or learn more about his involvement with coastal research, go to

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY