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A Laboratory Providing Hands On Experience With A Spark Ignition Engine In A Required Thermodynamics Course

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Improving ME instructional laboratories

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.59.1 - 11.59.20



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Paper Authors


Ralph Volino U.S. Naval Academy

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Associate Professor.
Mechanical Engineering Department, United States Naval Academy since 1995.
M.S., Ph.D., University of Minnesota.
B.S., Michigan State University.

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Andrew Smith U.S. Naval Academy

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Assistant Professor.
Mechanical Engineering Department, United States Naval Academy since 2001.
Ph.D., University of Virginia.
B.S., Villanova University.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Laboratory Providing Hands-On Experience with a Spark Ignition Engine in a Required Thermodynamics Course


A new experimental laboratory exercise is described involving the disassembly, reassembly and testing of a small spark ignition engine. The laboratory is designed to give a large group of students a hands-on experience with a piston engine, and to directly relate the mechanical device to the theory in a typical thermodynamics course. The exercise was deliberately limited in scope, as a single laboratory in a multi-subject thermodynamics course. Equipment cost was low and included multiple engines and a small dynamometer. Experimental results agreed well with theoretical calculations. Results of a pre and post course student surveys indicate that students learned information they would not have gained without the laboratory and retained it several months after the course.


Direct familiarity with mechanical devices is highly desirable for engineering students. Many students entering engineering programs, however, lack such experience. There is a perception that students today have less practical experience than those from past decades. After graduation most engineers will at some point be designing or evaluating designs of actual equipment. In order to be effective they must be able to relate theory to hardware. Most engineering courses do not teach the workings of mechanical devices as complete systems integrated with other concepts. Piston-cylinder devices, for example, are considered extensively in all thermodynamics courses, but are not typically tied directly to the mechanical devices that perform the thermodynamic cycles. There are practical reasons for this disconnect. Within the time available for an engineering degree program, it would be ineffective to teach all the details of many complex mechanical devices. In addition to the volume of information required, as technology advances, many of these devices will become obsolete. Students need to acquire the fundamentals of analysis and design, so that they can keep learning after graduation and apply these concepts in integrated engineering problems. It is still desirable, however, to provide students with some examples of complete systems that integrate concepts from several courses. Capstone design projects provide this in a significant way, but a capstone course provides only one experience with a particular project. It is valuable to introduce the idea in smaller ways, when possible. Reciprocating engines provide a good vehicle for tying together many engineering concepts. All students are familiar, at least as users, with piston engines. Their practicality is therefore obvious. Thermodynamics, heat transfer, combustion, fluid mechanics, mechanism design, material science, strength of materials, and electrical circuits are all needed to produce an operating engine. Seeing this connection directly can provide motivation for study of the individual subjects, and a realization that required courses are not completely unrelated.

Goals and Integration in the Curriculum

The goal of the present laboratory is to provide students with a hands-on experience with an actual piston engine. They can see how it works and how its parts fit together, and relate it

Volino, R., & Smith, A. (2006, June), A Laboratory Providing Hands On Experience With A Spark Ignition Engine In A Required Thermodynamics Course Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--421

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