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Solar Cooker Design For Thermodynamics Lab

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Sustainable Energy Education

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1073.1 - 15.1073.18

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Paper Authors


Thomas Shepard University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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Thomas Shepard is a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota. He received an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University and B.A. in Physics from Colorado College. His teaching interests include undergraduate courses in the thermal/fluid sciences, experimental methods and renewable energy technologies. He has research interests in experimental fluid mechanics, energy conversion, and engineering education.

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Camille George University of St. Thomas

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Camille George is an Associate Professor and the Program Director of Mechanical Engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She teaches thermodynamics and maintains a strong interest in technology literacy and international service-learning. Dr. George has spearheaded several innovative international projects in collaboration with seven different departments including Geology, Modern and Classical Languages, Sociology, Accounting and Communications. She has also introduced a Peace Engineering track which combines Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Justice and Peace.

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

Solar Cooker Design Project for Thermodynamics Lab


A solar cooker design project was developed to teach energy conversion and the first law of thermodynamics. Student teams were provided with a solar concentrating device (either a 54” diameter spherical mirror or a 27”x36” Fresnel lens) with the task of utilizing it in the design of a safe and easily adjustable solar cooker which minimized convective heat loss. The solar cookers were then third-party tested during a lab involving transient first law analysis of the heating process for water in a pot and in a pressure cooker. Further, testing was done to compare student developed innovations for reducing heat losses. This allowed students to see different solutions to the same problem while comparing performance.

Another aim of this project was to provide junior level engineering students with a first hand experience combining lessons learned in lecture with the practical constraints of designing, building and testing a realistic application. The students were encouraged to be creative in this open-ended project that relied heavily on team-based learning. At the beginning of the semester a pre-project survey was used to allocate crucial skills (mechanical aptitude, writing ability, mathematical skills, etc.) evenly amongst the different teams. Assessment of how the project enhanced student learning was done via graded assignment and student survey. The project culminated in a final report incorporating several main components. The first component was a design analysis which included Solid Works drawings, a bill of materials, a user manual for safe operation of the cooker as well as a discussion on how the team reached its final design decision and compromises made. A lab analysis section incorporated the processing of data collected during the lab as well as theoretical calculations based on material learned in class. The final section called on students to reflect on the lessons learned throughout the process, suggest potential directions for future studies with the solar cookers and discuss the practicality of widespread solar cooker use.

The project appealed to a variety of learning styles and exposing the potential for global impact which can come from applying lessons in new or alternative ways added everyday relevance to the labs.


Perhaps the largest challenge faced in the instruction of introductory thermodynamics is bringing the material to life in a way that is both educational and exciting for the student. One strategy for this is to show students areas where thermodynamics is applied to alternative solutions for everyday problems. The growing area of solar-thermal technologies provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers to combine manageable thermodynamic analyses to an increasingly relevant field. This is especially convenient in a lab setting where a common heat source such as a hot plate can be replaced by a solar collector. As the thermodynamic analysis does not depend on the source of the heat, just

Shepard, T., & George, C. (2010, June), Solar Cooker Design For Thermodynamics Lab Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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