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Modeling And Experimental Observation Of A Rapid Compression In A Piston Cylinder Assembly For Use With Model Eliciting Activities

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Laboratories

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.881.1 - 14.881.13



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Paper Authors

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Frank Schreiber California Polytechnic State University

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Andrew Kean California Polytechnic State University

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Glen Thorncroft California Polytechnic State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Modeling and Experimental Observation of a Rapid Compression in a Piston-Cylinder Assembly for Use with Model-Eliciting Activities.


In this work, the classic thermodynamic problem of a rapid compression of a closed system contained in a piston-cylinder assembly is studied. This experiment allows students to gain a deeper understanding of reversible processes, polytropic processes, and the appropriateness of the ideal gas law assumption. Rather than being told how to model the process, the experiment gives students the opportunity for open-ended investigation of a system commonly encountered in thermodynamics courses. Students can use the experimental results to assess the accuracy of their assumptions.

In order to keep costs low and promote dissemination of the experiment, the experimental apparatus is a modified version of an inexpensive scientific toy which goes by the following names: Fire Tube, Flash Tube, or Fire Syringe. The device is basically a handheld glass or acrylic tube with a metal plunger which can compress air within the tube. If you put a small piece of paper inside the tube, the system conditions after compression are such that the paper may ignite and burn. For this investigation, a Fire Tube has been instrumented to acquire pressure and volume data during the compression.

The data acquired from this investigation will be utilized in the development of Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs). MEAs use open-ended case studies to simulate authentic, real-world problems that small teams of students address. MEAs do not resemble the problem-solving activities involved in most course textbooks, differing in length of time, access to information resources, number of individuals involved in problem-solving, and type of documentation that is required. However, the most important difference is the emphasis on building, expressing, testing, and revising conceptual models. Universities which adopt MEAs into their curriculum could use the data presented here, and avoid the cost and effort associated with instrumenting their own Fire Tubes.


Similar to many engineering schools, the Mechanical Engineering Department (ME) at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, teaches introductory engineering thermodynamics to students from many different engineering programs of study. Each quarter, we offer 5 or more sections of this course (~35 students each) and we may see students from 5 or more programs of study in each section. Motivating student learning in this course has proved challenging for reasons including the difficult and abstract nature of the course material and the diverse student population in each section.

The faculty in ME at Cal Poly is constantly searching for educational methods which improve student learning and material retention while simultaneously increasing both student and faculty enjoyment in the classroom. Recently, a team of BS students, MS students, and faculty has formed to develop relatively new learning tools known as Model Eliciting Activities (MEAs). MEAs were first developed to elicit problem-solving strategies from students in mathematics

Schreiber, F., & Kean, A., & Thorncroft, G. (2009, June), Modeling And Experimental Observation Of A Rapid Compression In A Piston Cylinder Assembly For Use With Model Eliciting Activities Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5681

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