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Converting Heat to Work: A Thermodynamics Design Project

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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

Innovative Teaching Methods and Learning Models

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.382.1 - 22.382.14



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Paper Authors

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Thomas Shepard University of St. Thomas

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Alison B. Hoxie University of Minnesota Duluth

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Converting Heat to Work: A Thermodynamics Design ProjectAbstract: The conversion of heat into work is a fundamental concept addressed in the study ofthermodynamics and is ultimately responsible for our standard of living. While the conceptsinvolved in the conversion process are developed thoroughly through course work and lecturethere remains a disconnect between learning the subject on paper and fully appreciating howdifficult the conversion is to accomplish. This paper discusses a student-centered design projectin which students bridge the gap by designing a device that converts heat produced by a candleinto the work of raising a quarter vertically. The act of designing and testing the device allowsstudents the opportunity to analyze the conversion process using material learned in class andprovides a valuable hands-on experience dealing with the physical phenomena involved (i.e.friction, heat loss, sudden expansion, etc). The project has been administered at multipleuniversities with hundreds of students participating in small teams and student feedback gatheredthrough post-project surveys. Several iterations of the project have been administered withvariations in the amount of heat used, analysis required, in-class time dedicated to the project,budget provided and final testing procedures. The lessons learned regarding these differentiterations are synthesized and suggestions are provided for successful implementation of thedesign project.

Shepard, T., & Hoxie, A. B. (2011, June), Converting Heat to Work: A Thermodynamics Design Project Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17663

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