Asee peer logo

Computer Simulations Developed to Improve Understanding of Thermodynamic Principles

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

CoED Mechanical Engineering Topics

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


David G Alexander California State University, Chico

visit author page

Dr. Alexander’s research interests and areas of expertise are in teaching pedagogy, capstone design, renewable energy systems, thermal sciences, vehicle system modeling and simulation, heat transfer, new product development, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer. He is PI and adviser of the Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition 2016. He is also working on an undergraduate research project modeling solar cells using a thermodynamics approach and analyzing changes in efficiency with cell temperature. Additional work includes, developing a closed loop throttle controlled model of a purely ultracapacitor hybrid electric vehicle. This model was used to select components and control strategies for a class 8 commercial hybrid concept vehicle as well as a small hybrid sedan. Vehicle road testing was performed and validated the system model.

Dr. Alexander has 10 years of industry work experience most of which as CEO of IVUS Energy Innovations – a technology start-up company that he and three partners formed around unique fast changing technology. As CEO, he raised over $2 million in equity financing, secured a worldwide license agreement, and managed the commercialization and launch of the industry’s first 90-second rechargeable flashlight. In addition he is co-inventor on four U.S. patents and has presented numerous times at advanced energy technology conferences in the areas of business and technology development.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This paper describes the design, development and pilot implementation of computer simulations created to support student learning in a first semester course on thermodynamics. This project was sponsored by the Course Redesign with Technology program through the California State University Chancellor’s Office. The focus of the computer simulations was to be engaging, relatively simple, and scientifically accurate. They were developed within the Matlab® environment using relatively simple geometric shapes, lines and colors specifically designed to coincide with the simple systems described in an introductory thermodynamics course and to avoid elaborate designs that might distract or obscure important and relevant concepts. Each module emphasized a common thermodynamic principle or concept and provided an opportunity for users to adjust a limited number of inputs and immediately observe a resulting change. The modules included concepts in material density, simple compressible systems, and 2-D property diagrams. Feedback was collected from students self-reporting their experiences and impressions. Thirty-three students completed the questionnaire after using the 2-D properties module while only ten and seven responses were collected for the simple compressible system and density modules, respectively. Based on student feedback using the 2-D properties module, 15 of 32 respondents reported that their understanding of the thermodynamic principles improved and 29 of 33 students reported that they would use the 2-D module again for other classes or applications. Four of ten respondents reported that after using the simple compressible system module their learning improved and all students reported that they would or might use the simple compressible system module in the future. Only one student reported that their understanding of the material improved and 4 of 6 reported that they would not use the module in the future, which indicates that this module was either too simplistic or was introduced too late in the semester. The positive student responses for using the 2-D property and simple compressible system modules provides preliminary support that the computer simulations supported student learning.

Alexander, D. G. (2017, June), Computer Simulations Developed to Improve Understanding of Thermodynamic Principles Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28063

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015