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Introducing Engineering Design Concepts With A Micro Steam Car Project

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Curriculum and Laboratory Development

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.746.1 - 7.746.11



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Paper Authors

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Prasanta Kalita

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Peter Lyne

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Loren Bode

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Alan Hansen

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Session 2208

Introducing Engineering Design Concepts with a Micro Steam Car Project

Alan C. Hansen 1, Prasanta K. Kalita 1, Peter W.L. Lyne 2, Loren E. Bode 1 1 Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/ 2 School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology, University of Natal, South Africa


A micro steam car construction project was introduced for the first time in Fall 2000 as part of an introduction to agricultural engineering course for freshmen. Its purpose was to provide students with a hands-on engineering design experience constructing and testing a micro steam car. Most of the materials for building the car were supplied as a kit and comprised raw materials in the form of sheet metal, soda can, rubber tubes, wire, string and tin lids. Students built a car approximately 30 cm long powered by an ethanol heated tin can boiler, a pin sized nozzle and a turbine, which drives the front wheel. The project culminates with a competition in which the objective is to achieve maximum distance traveled on 20 mL of ethanol fuel. Apart from learning some metal working and soldering skills, the nature of the project allowed students to wrestle with a number of basic engineering and science concepts such as energy conservation, heat transfer and efficiency. While engineers in their first year of study may not yet have covered these topics in any detail in their classes, the need to try and identify factors contributing to the performance of the car provided a long-lasting learning experience. They are also able to practice problem-solving skills and learn to work in teams. Feedback from students on the project was positive with most students concluding that it had been a worthwhile activity in terms of learning problem-solving skills, working in a team and getting to know other students.


ABET accredited undergraduate engineering programs, including Agricultural Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have begun to introduce design concepts at the freshman level with the objective of maintaining a common design thread through the entire program. In addition, by introducing design as early as possible there is an opportunity to promote early interaction between students and faculty and generate excitement about engineering at a time when the curriculum is heavily loaded with basic math and science courses and relatively little perceived engineering.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Kalita, P., & Lyne, P., & Bode, L., & Hansen, A. (2002, June), Introducing Engineering Design Concepts With A Micro Steam Car Project Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10728

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