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updated: 7/18/2013 12:12 AM

Beach Wave Tank Helps Students Learn About Waves

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Students in hydroscience classes at College of DuPage are learning about waves, erosion and barrier island principles using a unique tank designed by one of their professors.

Diana Strode, Assistant Professor of Earth Science, modeled the beach wave tank after a similar device at San Diego State University, and it is the first one of its kind at a community college in Illinois. The tank measures 4 feet by 7 and a half feet and allows students to use sand, water and other items to create beach and coastal landforms.

"Many students in our area haven't visited a coastline or a lakeshore and therefore have not seen how water shifts sediments," she said. "In the tank, they can see how waves shape beaches and the dynamic equilibrium of sediment migration that takes place on a beach."

The wave tank allows students to see how high energy waves like storm surges and wave-generated currents erode sediment.

"Modeling using the tank brings the outdoors indoors, where students can see these processes on a smaller scale," she said. "Through simulations in the tank, students observe that a barrier island is the first line of defense against storm surge. We discuss how coastal erosion places homes and other structures built on barrier islands and along the coast at risk to significant damage."

Students also study the physical characteristics of water waves by measuring wave heights and frequencies, and by observing the effects of wave refraction and reflection. The new tank is a huge improvement over the plastic tubs with sand that students once used in her classes, Strode said.

When the College remodeled the Berg Instructional Center, new classroom and lab space for the Earth Science program included a hydrosciences lab for the beach wave tank and other equipment, including two new stream tables that replicate stream conditions and bench-scale groundwater models that simulate groundwater flow.

"We are able to teach more effectively using these tools," Strode said. "Students learn how physical models are used in science to study the processes that shape the land."

Strode has been developing the hydroscience classes at

College of DuPage for more than a decade.

"Students enrolled in Earth Science 1130, Introduction to Oceanography, discover how the world ocean has an impact on them even though DuPage County lacks beachfront property," she said. "In Earth Science 1135, Water Science -- The Fundamentals of Hydrology, students are introduced to the dynamic processes of surface water and ground water. They investigate and analyze the impacts of population growth, urbanization, weather and climate upon hydrological processes and water resource sustainability."

The Oceanography and Hydrology classes also fulfill general education requirements.

"Students don't realize that Earth Science classes are numbered according to sub-discipline within the program (Geology, Meteorology, Astronomy and Hydrosciences) rather than by level of difficulty," she said. "This means that an Earth Science course numbered 1101 isn't any less difficult than an Earth Science course numbered 1102 or 1130. Nor is 1135 any more difficult than 1130. They simply address different subjects."

For more information about the Earth Science program, call (630) 942-8331 or visit