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Novel Approach to Conducting Labs in an Introduction to Thermodynamics Course

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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

Energy Education Courses, Labs, and Projects

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.981.1 - 25.981.18



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Paper Authors


Teodora Rutar Shuman Seattle University

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Teodora Rutar Shuman is an Associate Professor at Seattle University, Department of Mechanical Engineering. She received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and a M.S. and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington. She pursues research in electro-mechanical systems for sustainable processing of microalgae. Email:

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Gregory Mason P.E. Seattle University

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Novel Approach to Conducting Labs in an Introduction to Thermodynamics CourseAbstractThis paper describes an easily implementable new approach to thermodynamics laboratoryinstruction that directly addresses ABET Criterion b) an ability to design and conductexperiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data. In a traditional lab, students conductpreconfigured experiments based on established procedures. They then gather, analyze andinterpret data, and write reports. However, little is done to train engineering graduates to designexperiments for a specific purpose and without a prescribed procedure. Engineeringprofessionals are frequently tasked with designing experiments to demonstrate performance of adevice they designed or developed in order to prove a physical phenomenon in a research setting,etc. Hence, it comes as no surprise that ABET has embraced this criterion for close to a decade.Introduction to Thermodynamics requires that students learn basic, yet complicated concepts,such as determining properties of pure substances, calculating heat and work exchanged during aprocess, and the first and second law of thermodynamics, before they can tackle complexapplications, such as thermodynamic cycles or combustion systems. These basic concepts areconducive to simple, conceptually oriented laboratory assignments that parallel the classroominstruction. Those laboratory assignments are an ideal place to implement design of experiments,DOE, because the concepts are still fundamental and intuitive.We have implemented this approach in our weekly Introduction to Thermodynamics labs. Teamsof 3-5 students are given a set of basic supplies and are tasked with designing an experiment witha specific purpose such as determining the efficiency of a light-bulb as an emitter of light. In thisexperiment they are given a light-bulb with pre-built leads, a plastic cup, a power supply, amp-and volt-meters, a thermometer, a scale, a stirrer, and several other items they may not use.Students brainstorm about ways to test efficiency, build a test apparatus, conduct measurements,and calculate the efficiency.This paper describes three such labs, including the prelab handouts, assignments, and equipment.The paper also summarizes our assessment and evaluation of this approach. The assessmentutilizes student surveys taken three times throughout the quarter, student interviews, and labassignment grades. The assessment compares the performance of students who participated inthe DOE labs with those who took labs that do not utilize DOE but have simple experiments withprescribed procedure, and with those who took labs that address several simple concepts in onecomplicated experiment.This paper is a continuation of a paper presented at the 2011 ASEE conference. The new paperincludes new pre-lab assignments and new assessment data taken from a second course thatimplemented this approach. In addition, the new paper compares the performance of studentsthat did not participate in the DOE labs with those who did, taking into account the effects ofstudent grade-point averages and lab and exam assignment grades in the thermodynamics course.

Shuman, T. R., & Mason, G. (2012, June), Novel Approach to Conducting Labs in an Introduction to Thermodynamics Course Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21738

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