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The Educational Value of Modelling Complex Thermodynamic Systems with System Dynamics Software

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Technical Session 10: Simulation and Modeling

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Stephen W. Crown University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley

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Dr. Crown is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley. He is the director of the Edinburg Texas Pre-Freshman Engineering Program and directs the outreach component of a National Science Foundation grant supporting STEM education.

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Constantine Tarawneh University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Tarawneh is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) where he worked since 2003. He obtained his MS and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in 1999 and 2003, respectively. He founded the University Transportation Center for Railway Safety (UTCRS) in 2013 and serves as the Center Director. He also serves as the Associate Dean for Research for the College of Engineering and Computer Science since 2016. His various research and educational activities have resulted in more than $17.2 Million in funding from federal, industry, state, and local sources. He has more than fourteen years of experience conducting a variety of railroad research with emphasis on advanced bearing condition monitoring techniques. He received 26 teaching, mentoring, and research awards highlighted by the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2009. In Fall of 2017, he was appointed as the Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Endowed Professor in Engineering. To date he has taught 24 different courses in his discipline.

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The solution of problems involving complex thermodynamic systems often occupies much of a students' time and can be a distraction from them developing a clear understanding of system components, interaction of subsystems, modelling simplifications and assumptions, and design optimization. Refocusing students on the fundamental concepts of thermal systems design and analysis is possible with the introduction of system modelling software that carries some of the load of repetitive calculation required for complex systems. Models of thermodynamic systems encountered in an advanced undergraduate thermodynamics course were developed by students (some provided to students) to solve homework problems of complex steam power plants, internal combustion engines, gas turbine power plants, refrigeration, and building energy systems. Computer modelling systems used included two commercial modelling programs, an open source program, and systems developed by the authors. Use of the modeling software forced students to setup problems in the same way as if solved on paper but allowed them to identify common components and processes that could be modeled by common blocks and used in multiple thermal systems. One example presented is a simple process block that gives the state for any location in a converging/diverging supersonic nozzle with a normal shock. The initial implementation has resulted in positive feedback from students and an improved self-efficacy in understanding and modelling complex thermodynamic systems not presented in class.

Crown, S. W., & Tarawneh, C. (2019, June), The Educational Value of Modelling Complex Thermodynamic Systems with System Dynamics Software Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33384

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