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Cannons to Spark Thermal-Fluid Canons

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Division Experimentation and Lab-Oriented Studies - Pedagogy of Lab Courses

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Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Francis (Mac) Haas Rowan University Orcid 16x16

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Mac Haas is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rowan University. His primary research interests include chemically reacting flows applied to energy conversion and air pollutant formation/destruction.

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Nicholas William Dow


Tom Merrill Rowan University

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Dr. Tom Merrill's research interests include energy systems, biotransport modeling, and medical devices. Prior to Rowan University, Dr. Merrill worked for thirteen years at a number of places including United Technologies Carrier, Abiomed, Wyeth Research, MicroDose Technologies, and at a medical device start-up company called FocalCool. He received his degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Penn State (Ph.D.), the University of Michigan (M.S.), and Bucknell University (B.S.). He currently teaches thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and biofluids.

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Smitesh Bakrania Rowan University

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Dr. Smitesh Bakrania is an associate professor in Mechanical Engineering at Rowan University. He received his Ph.D. from University of Michigan in 2008 and his B.S. from Union College in 2003. His research interests include combustion synthesis of nanoparticles and combustion catalysis using nanoparticles. He is also involved in developing educational apps for instructional and research purposes.

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Hands-on projects are launch pads for sparking student interest. Specifically, design-build-test (DBT) projects can be effective tools for boosting students’ confidence in their ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical engineering. Recognizing the need for relating the theoretical aspects of thermodynamics to its application, an air cannon design-build-test project was envisioned and implemented.

Air cannons can be simple and inexpensive to construct, while offering a robust platform to explore thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics concepts. At the same time, the ability to launch projectiles from the cannons carries an obvious appeal for many students. An air cannon design project was integrated towards the beginning of a year-long thermal-fluid sciences course series. The primary aim of the project was for student teams to study how air cannons function and subsequently design a prototype that fits “customer” specifications. Each team constructed their cannons using PVC piping to launch acetal plastic projectiles. Students were additionally required to design a functional release valve mechanism to trigger the projectile launch. To aid in evaluation of their designs, students were introduced to a numerical-analytical modeling approach to explain air cannon behavior using principles of linear momentum conservation and ideal gas thermodynamics theory. Among other metrics, the performance of each student team was assessed based on (1) the ability of the custom trigger mechanism to fire the cannon over a range of initial reservoir pressures, (2) a thoughtful comparison among experimentally-measured and model-predicted muzzle velocities, and (3) documentation of the results of cannon design, realization, and operation.

This paper discusses the implementation and relevant outcomes of the project. Based on student feedback, the project was well-received and anchored the often abstract thermal-fluid sciences concepts taught. The project also highlighted the challenges of applying theoretical equations to real-world problems and the vital need for experiments to improve accuracy of theoretical models. Exposure to this iterative approach to design emphasizes the practical aspects of engineering challenges. Overall, the project served its primary purpose of engaging students with thermodynamics concepts. With minor modifications in implementation, the project can appeal to students with a broader academic focus and experience.

Haas, F. M., & Dow, N. W., & Merrill, T., & Bakrania, S. (2017, June), Cannons to Spark Thermal-Fluid Canons Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28007

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