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A Creative Introduction to Entropy

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids, and Heat Transfer

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.37.1 - 25.37.14



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Paper Authors


David Zietlow Bradley University

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David Zietlow is a professor of mechanical engineering.

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Jacqueline Henderson Bradley University

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A Creative Introduction to EntropyA pedagogical tool to explain entropy and the second law of thermodynamics was developed through collaborationbetween the art faculty, The League of Imaginary Scientists and mechanical engineering. This tool can also be usedas the introduction to a discussion on some of the issues that help students understand the ethical and global issuesthat our society faces. One of the outcomes of the collaboration included a multi-level, interactive art installation.The participant of the exhibit stands on a platform and simulates an earthquake which causes blocks from buildingsto fall. Each block is connected to a switch which activates a fan when it falls. The fan levitates a ping pong ballwhich graphically represents the level of disorder or entropy resulting from the earthquake. To restore order theparticipate needs to replace the blocks at which time the switch opens the circuit to the fan causing the balls to drop.Another product of this collaboration was a brief (two minute) video explaining entropy through the exhibit. Thevideo can be used as a pedagogical tool in any classroom across all disciplines. It can be used to initiate a discussionon some of the issues that help students understand the ethical and global issues that our society faces. It does thisby using entropy as a portal into some of the deeper issues of life by asking the following questions: What is thecause of disorder? Do we live in an isolated system? and Can order be restored?A multiple choice test was developed to measure students understanding of entropy after visiting the exhibit. Thetest was administered to freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors. The juniors, currently in the first semester ofthermodynamics, had not been exposed the second law of thermodynamics and entropy before this installation.On the other hand, the seniors had two semesters of thermodynamics, and the freshman and sophomores had little tono knowledge of thermodynamics. The test not only sampled their understanding of how entropy relates tomechanical systems but also health, interpersonal and international relations. The results of this test are presented inthis paper. This tool can help with providing more content with the softer skills addressed in ABET outcomes whichis challenging for most engineering programs to incorporate in their curriculum.

Zietlow, D., & Henderson, J. (2012, June), A Creative Introduction to Entropy Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20797

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