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Teaching Thermodynamics Without Tables Isn't It Time?

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.961.1 - 6.961.6

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Gregg Dixon

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

Session 2266

Teaching Thermodynamics without Tables – Isn’t it Time?

Gregg W. Dixon United States Coast Guard Academy


The ability to use tables to determine properties of pure substances has been regarded as an essential component of knowledge of thermodynamics in both introductory and advanced courses. This ability was essential when there was no other reasonably convenient method to represent the complicated functional behavior of these properties. However, with the advent in the last decade of user-friendly computer programs such as Engineering Equation Solver (EES)1, it is no longer necessary for students to master the skills of table look-ups in order to develop a good understanding of property behavior in thermodynamic applications. EES has thermophysical property functions built into a powerful equation solver program which allows students to consider a wider variety of problems and applications than would be feasible with table look-ups alone.

This paper discusses the pedagogical pros and cons of emphasizing the use of tables in introductory thermodynamics courses and the possibilities for minimizing or eliminating the tedium of using tables. The experience of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in trying different approaches indicates that a “no tables” introductory course has the potential for increasing student understanding of basic principles and giving them a better appreciation for applications to practical engineering systems. Eliminating tables also helps combat the student perception that thermodynamics is an archaic science which is not amenable to the use of computer-based analytical tools.

I. Introduction

Most introductory thermodynamics textbooks2-4 emphasize the use of tables to determine thermodynamic property values of both pure substances which can change phase and ideal gases with variable heat capacities. These tables have been essential when computational abilities have been limited, just as they were for trigonometric functions before the advent of scientific calculators and personal computers. As common computational tools have eliminated the use of tables for simpler functions, the use of thermodynamic tables is still common and frequently considered to be an essential component of knowledge of thermodynamics for students as well as practitioners. Questions requiring the use of thermodynamic tables are often included in the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Examination. Some textbooks now include computerized tables which facilitate the look-up process and minimize the need for interpolations. However, others now include access to equation solving software with built in thermodynamic property functions. This latter development significantly increases the range and variety of problems which can be investigated by students. The pedagogical possibilities opened up by the availability of this

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Dixon, G. (2001, June), Teaching Thermodynamics Without Tables Isn't It Time? Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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