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Simulation Based Learning Of Distillation Principles In Historical Context: From Da Vinci’s Alembics To Modern Applications

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

ChE Poster Session

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1080.1 - 13.1080.7

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Paper Authors

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Yakov Cherner ATeL, LLC


Jerry Meldon Tufts University

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Jerry H. Meldon, Ph.D. received a BE in Chemical Engineering from the Cooper Union in 1968 and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 1973. Since 1977 he has been on the faculty of the Chemical Engineering Department at Tufts University. His primary research interests have been mass transfer with chemical reaction, separation processes (especially membrane processes) and mathematical modeling. For nearly 20 years beginning he was a consultant to the Exxon Corporate Research Laboratory in Annandale, NJ. His abiding interests in inorganic membranes for gas separations, and coupled reaction and separation, grew out of his employment there while on leave in 1987. He has received two US patents for separation processes whose conception evolved from projects in which he developed mathematical models of simultaneous mass transfer and chemical reaction.

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Anatoly Peresunko Southern Federal University (Russia)

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Associate Dean and Professor of Chemistry, Southern Federal University (Russia)
Research interests include investigation of properties, crystal structure and phase transitions of solid-state inorganic compounds and materials; chemical education.

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

Simulation-Based Learning of Distillation Principles in Historical Context: From Da Vinci’s Alembics to Modern Applications

Yakov E. Cherner*, Jerry H. Meldon**, Anatoly F. Peresunko*** *ATeL, LLC, ** Tufts University, *** Southern Federal University (Russia)


One of the most difficult concepts in physical chemistry for grasp – and, because of its wide range of practical applications, one of the most important concepts - is that of relative volatility. Although grade-school students are familiar with the related concept of boiling, most require formal instruction to be able to distinguish it from evaporation. The concept of vapor pressure is taught in college-level general and physical chemistry, and thermodynamics, but is not well retained.

Chemical engineering professors quickly realize the necessity of emphasizing, repeatedly, that when multi-component solutions begin to evaporate, the emerging vapors consist not only of the most volatile component, but in fact contain all of them, albeit in different proportions than those in which they prevailed in the liquid. This concept is crucial to understanding the physico- chemical mechanisms exploited in air conditioning (as well as cooling via sweating and evaporation), refrigeration, power plant steam cycles, distillation of alcoholic beverages and petroleum fractions, and numerous other important processes.

Da Vinci’s Alembics

One way to spark student interest in such abstract subjects is to consider them in earlier historical contexts involving famous persons. Undoubtedly, Leonardo Da Vinci was and remains one of the most outstanding, mysterious and fascinating personalities of all time. This paper describes a simulation-based e-learning module designed to motivate and maintain student interest in studying distillation and related phenomena, and their practical applications, in historical perspective. Using interface controls, the student can select among sets of laboratory equipments and thereby journey from medieval alembics to contemporary laboratory and industrial-scale equipment.

The first section focuses on the early work of the great Da Vinci. Students embark on their journey with a brief introduction to Da Vinci’s bio, art and inventions. It follows with Leonardo’s drawings and interactive 3D models based on those drawings.

Da Vinci took it upon himself to develop and perfect a practical means to separate liquids by exploiting differences in their volatilities (i.e., their boiling points or, equivalently, their vapor pressures). He called the fruit of his labor the “alembic.” His original drawings and a description of his efforts motivate students to explore the physicochemical basis for his invention. The Da Vinci collection at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana di Milano includes three drawings of alembics with author’s notes.

Cherner, Y., & Meldon, J., & Peresunko, A. (2008, June), Simulation Based Learning Of Distillation Principles In Historical Context: From Da Vinci’s Alembics To Modern Applications Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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