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The Hydrostatic Vacuum Tube: a Low-Cost Thermal Fluid Science Laboratory

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering: Fluids, Heat Transfer

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Paper Authors


Aaron Drenth US Air Force Academy

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George Sidebotham The Cooper Union


Phillip Cornwell Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Phillip Cornwell currently teaches at the United States Air Force Academy and is an Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1989 and his present interests include structural dynamics, structural health monitoring, and undergraduate engineering education. Dr. Cornwell has received an SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award in 1992, and the Dean’s Outstanding Teacher award at Rose-Hulman in 2000 and the Rose-Hulman Board of Trustee’s Outstanding Scholar Award in 2001. He was one of the developers of the Rose-Hulman Sophomore Engineering Curriculum, the Dynamics Concept Inventory, and he is a co-author of Vector Mechanics for Engineers: Dynamics, by Beer, Johnston, Cornwell, and Self. In 2019 Dr. Cornwell received the Archie Higdon Distinguished Educator Award from the Mechanics Division of ASEE.

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Ioan Feier US Air Force Academy Orcid 16x16

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Students often comment that they benefit from exposure to both analytical and experimental results of concepts discussed in class, especially in the abstract thermal-fluid sciences emphasis area of a Mechanical Engineering curriculum. As educators, we sought to address this deficiency by developing a new test apparatus, the Hydrostatic Vacuum Tube (HVT). In short, a HVT is a vertical tube partially filled with water and a trapped air pocket at the top, initially at atmospheric pressure. One experiment involves opening a valve at the bottom to expose an exit port of sufficiently small exit diameter to prevent backflow of air. Water is collected and measured until the flow stops due to the hydrostatic vacuum created as the air pocket expands. A second experiment (the Draining Tank) can be conducted without trapping the air, by exposing/venting the liquid surface to ambient pressure. The height of the water is measured versus time as the tank drains, driven by a hydrostatic head. Predictive theory is developed and results compared with experiment, with excellent agreement. Key thermodynamics concepts involved are expansion of an ideal gas, hydrostatic pressure, and mass conservation in a control volume. The device could be used in other courses, such as Fluid Mechanics, Engineering System Dynamics, Heat Transfer and Experimental Mechanics. Using the same lab equipment in several courses iteratively will make connections between subject areas. The construction and use of the lab hardware and relevant theory is discussed in this paper. Plans are outlined for assessment of the effectiveness of the lab in improving conceptual understanding of the technical content, broadening the experimental experience, and enhancing the ability to use appropriate technical language when comparing test data and theoretical predictions.

Drenth, A., & Sidebotham, G., & Cornwell, P., & Feier, I. (2022, August), The Hydrostatic Vacuum Tube: a Low-Cost Thermal Fluid Science Laboratory Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41469

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