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Engineering Thermodynamics in the 21st Century: Active Learning by Human Body Thermodynamics

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Active and Project-based Learning

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.563.1 - 25.563.12



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Paper Authors

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Joakim Sigurd Wren Linköping University

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Engineering Thermodynamics in the 21st Century – Active learning by human body thermodynamicsSince the founding of engineering thermodynamics in the 19th century, the subject has becomerecognized as one of the keystones in many engineering disciplines. Dealing with thefundamentals of energy and energy conversion, its relevance in engineering and engineeringeducation cannot be underestimated, especially when having today´s energy andenvironmental concerns in mind.Despite the importance of the subject, it has been found to be considered as “dry andabstract” by students [1]. One reason might be that the subject has become more and moredifficult to relate to its applications –the fundamentals principles are the same as for 150 yearsago, but the applications become more and more refined due to technological developmentsand innovations. According to Ballmer and Spallholz [2] “the methodology of teachingengineering thermodynamics has not changed significantly since the late 19th century”. If so,it is altogether not surprising that students find engineering thermodynamics abstract, beingseparated from its applications – this might be devastating for the students’ interest andpossibility to learn.In this study, a new way of introducing thermodynamics has been applied to a course inengineering thermodynamics for first year students attending a five year Master’s program inMechanical Engineering/Design and product development in Sweden. In the course, a projectfocusing on human body thermodynamics was used as a complement to the traditional contentof classical engineering thermodynamics. The underlying idea was to exploit the generalinterest in health, food, fare and workout shared by many students, thus making the subjectmore interesting while at the same time extending the course to a wider arena. Measurementswere carried out by the students by using an ergometer/cycle trainer together with aspirometer system to measure breathing volume, oxygen inhalation and carbon dioxideexpiration. The measurements facilitated an analysis of the body metabolism from athermodynamic perspective, the conversion of chemical energy to work, and energyconsumption rate and efficiency.The project idea follows the phenomenological approach [3], which is recognized forstimulating a deep-level instead of a surface-level approach to learning. This is closely relatedto student-centered and active learning strategies. Although most teachers agree that studentsmust be “active” to learn, active in a general sense is however not enough – active learninghas been described as "When using active learning students are engaged in more activitiesthan just listening. They are involved in dialog, debate, writing, and problem solving, as wellas higher-order thinking, e.g., analysis, synthesis and evaluation." [4].The project was evaluated using interviews during the project, by a survey at the end of theproject, and by summarizing the teachers’ experiences during the project. In general, thestudents were very positive to the project, finding it interesting and innovative, relevant froma thermodynamic perspective, and it increased motivation and understanding. From theteachers’ perspective, the new project was a source of many interesting discussions withstudents that were really relating and applying their new thermodynamic knowledge to theirown experience. In conclusion, the project objectives were fulfilled, and both the students andteachers agree that the project was clearly beneficial from a learning perspective.References[1] Baker, D., Ezekoye, O., Schmidt, P., Jones, C., and Liu, M. ThermoNet: A Web-Based Learning Resource for Engineering Thermodynamics. In Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, American Society for Engineering Education, 2000. st[2] Balmer, R., and Spallholz, L. 21 Century Thermodynamics. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, American Society for Engineering Education, 2006.[3] Marton, F., Hounsell, D., and Entwistle, N. Hur vi lär (in Swedish), 3 ed. Stockholm: Prisma, 2000.[4] Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company. (612) 831-9500; FAX (612) 831- 9332.

Wren, J. S. (2012, June), Engineering Thermodynamics in the 21st Century: Active Learning by Human Body Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21320

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