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A Follow-Up Study on Building Connections Between Experiment, Theory, and Physical Intuition in Thermal Systems

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids, and Heat Transfer I

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.42.1 - 22.42.22



Permanent URL

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Paper Authors


Brent A Nelson Northern Arizona University

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Brent Nelson joined the faculty of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Northern Arizona University as an Assistant Professor in 2008. His research interests are in biomaterials and biomolecular characterization, multidisciplinary collaboration, and design learning.

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Constantin Ciocanel Northern Arizona University

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Dr. Constantin “Cornel” Ciocanel is Assistant Professor in the Mechanical engineering department at Northern Arizona University. He received a Doctorate from “Gh. Asachi” Technical University of lasi, Romania and a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo, Ohio, USA.

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A follow up study on the building connections between experiment, theory, and physical intuition in thermal systemsThis abstract reports on follow-up efforts to a previous study on the development andimplementation of a low-cost solar water heater design project. Briefly, the design project hadbeen implemented across concurrent offerings of a thermal systems experimentation course and acourse in analytical heat transfer, with students required to develop an analytical thermal modelfor their design and also to design an experiment to verify, validate, and inform their model. Thepurpose of this was to show students the way that theory and experiment work together in theunderstanding of engineering systems. The motivation for the low-cost aspect of the project hadbeen to reinforce physical intuition and foster innovation by requiring students to identify andsalvage available materials for their designs.In the previous iteration of this project, we found that while students enjoyed the project andrated it as being highly impactful on their learning, they failed to understand or appreciate theintended connection between analytical modeling and experimental design. To address thisconcern, in this iteration of the project (a solar oven this time), we improved the coordinationbetween the two courses and increased the integration of the project expectations across bothcourses. This was done by making a joint project presentation in the heat transfer course withboth professors, staggering the deadlines for the respective classes to allow time to design andbuild the system and experiment, develop the analytical model, take measurements, and refinethe analytical model based on the measurements.While results are not available at this time because the classes are still ongoing, the fullsubmission of this article will report on student performance on the integrated project. Resultswill be presented regarding the students’ ability to i) develop an analytical model to predict thebehavior of an imperfect system; ii) design an experiment to evaluate an analytical model; andiii) modify and validate an analytical model in response to experimental results. The results willbe explicitly assessed from the grading rubrics developed for the project. Additionally, a surveyadapted from the validated Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG) instrument willbe used at the end of the semester to determine students’ reactions to the project and theirperceptions of how it impacted their understanding of heat transfer from both the conceptual andexperimental perspectives. The results of the survey will be compared to the results from theprevious iteration of this design project in order to evaluate changes in student understanding ofthe integrated experimental and analytical goals of the project. These results will be used toguide the future development and offering of integrated design projects in the thermal sciencesand in other engineering disciplines.

Nelson, B. A., & Ciocanel, C. (2011, June), A Follow-Up Study on Building Connections Between Experiment, Theory, and Physical Intuition in Thermal Systems Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17324

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