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Project-Based Learning (PBL): An Effective Tool to Teach an Undergraduate CFD Course

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

DEED Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1188.1 - 22.1188.12



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Paper Authors


Wael Mokhtar Grand Valley State University

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Assistant Professor,
School of Engineering

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Project-Based Learning (PBL) – An Effective Tool to Teach an Undergraduate CFD CourseAbstractIn the last two decades computer-based methods such as Computer Aided Design (CAD), FiniteElement Analysis (FEA) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) have evolved from theresearch stage to industrial-ready application. It is now an expected skill from a new engineeringgraduate to have knowledge in CAD and sometimes FEA. Most of the engineering schools offerCAD courses even in the freshman year. FEA started to be a common undergraduate course insome engineering programs. Others introduce FEA as a design tool in the upper level MachineDesign courses. CFD started recently to find its way to undergraduate programs. The usualchallenges in introducing these tools are the level of math needed for these subjects andsometimes the programming skills required to develop the numerical codes. The advances madein commercial software allow engineering educator to overcome these challenges and introducethese numerical methods as design and analysis tools.In the present work, a CFD course was developed for undergraduate Mechanical Engineeringstudents. The course goal was to induce CFD was as a tool that the user needs to understand bothits theoretical background and application limits to be able to generated accurate and reliableresults. Theoretical topics such as governing equations, meshing, boundary conditions, numericalschemes, turbulence modeling, error analysis, and post processing were introduced. In parallelwith that track, Project-Based Learning (PBL) was used to teach applied CFD using acommercial package, Star CCM+. For this track, a set of projects was assigned where each onehad to achieve a specific learning outcome. The level of difficulty was increased from oneproject to the following one. For example, a project is focused on importing a CAD model andgenerating the numerical domain that also included defining boundary conditions. Anotherproject was to explore the turbulence modeling where importing CAD and boundary conditionwere assumed skills the students had at this point. In other words, each project builds on theknowledge of the previous projects. In the last project the students were asked to develop a fullCFD simulation for their own car starting from taking the measurements from the car throughCAD, meshing, boundary conditions, physical modeling, solution and post processing. Thefigure next page shows some samples from the students’ work.The course was first offered in summer 2010. Using PBL to teach the CFD package and supportthe theoretical part of the course showed success. In fact, having a commercial CFD package inhand helped the instructor to explain some theoretical concepts such as boundary layer, errorpropagation, and turbulence modeling by performing a live demonstration in the classroom. Thepaper will include the course learning outcomes, the details of the projects used in the PBLapproach, samples from the students work and assessment data.Figure: Samples from the students’ final project in the PBL track.

Mokhtar, W. (2011, June), Project-Based Learning (PBL): An Effective Tool to Teach an Undergraduate CFD Course Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18459

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