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Finding COP: A Project to Unify Topics in Fundamentals of Thermodynamics Course

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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

Thermodynamics, Fluids and Heat Transfer II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Yeow Siow University of Illinois, Chicago

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Dr. Yeow Siow has worked for more than twelve years as an engineering educator and practitioner. With experience in the automotive industry, he brings real-world examples and expectations into the classroom. Known for his unconventional teaching style, he has earned accolades at Michigan Technological University, Purdue University Calumet, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he currently teaches.

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Finding COP: A Project to Unify Topics in Fundamentals of Thermodynamics Course

In a typical introduction to thermodynamics course, concepts such as the First Law, property relations, Second Law, etc. are usually taught in succession. To aid in further understanding these concepts, and to help solidifying the “point” of studying thermodynamics, a high-stake project that unifies some of the major topics is necessary. Such a project should be readily relatable to everyday life, and yet should require a higher-level exploration of meanings.

An example of such project has been successfully implemented in a basic thermodynamics course since 2013. The goal is simply to find the coefficient of performance (COP) of students' refrigerators at home, without having to analyze the refrigeration system (which generally is studied in intermediate thermodynamics). Instead, students are expected to approach this problem from the angle of the refrigerator compartments, by estimating the amount of heat to be removed from inside the refrigerator. The electrical work may be determined experimentally, either via an instrument or by observing the frequency and duration of the refrigerator's operation.

This project may be assigned as soon as the First Law for cycles has been introduced, and may be split into two phases: Methodology followed by Experimentation and Solution. For the Methodology phase, students may be teamed up to brainstorm the meaning of the problem statement, research how a refrigerator works, identify the physics involved, and develop a strategy for collecting data necessary for the calculations. In the Experimentation and Solution phase, to be assigned as an individual project once the Second Law is introduced, students proceed to conduct experiments, solicit data that may be unavailable in the textbook, and assemble results in a final report. The expected outcome of the project is an appreciation of the First Law applied to incompressible substances (e.g., foodstuffs), ideal gas (air inside the compartment and its relation to door opening), electrical power and work, as well as the ability to construct and solve equations in a real-world setting.

Assessment of effectiveness includes comparison of average test and course grades between a “control” semester and other terms with this project implemented. End-of-semester course evaluation data and comments are also compiled and analyzed. A follow-up project may be assigned in an intermediate thermodynamics course where students would perform an analysis of the refrigerant and its cycle.

Siow, Y. (2017, June), Finding COP: A Project to Unify Topics in Fundamentals of Thermodynamics Course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28357

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