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The Use Of A Semester Long Theme Problem In A Senior Level Thermal Engineering Course

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.544.1 - 4.544.14

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Paper Authors

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Laura J. Genik

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Craig W. Somerton

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

Session 3233

The Use of a Semester Long Theme Problem in a Senior Level Thermal Engineering Course

Laura J. Genik, Craig W. Somerton University of Portland/Michigan State University


Formerly, a senior level capstone course in thermal engineering (ME 411 Applied Thermal Science) was a required part of the curriculum in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University. The intent of the course was to culminate several aspects of thermodynamics and heat transfer together in a single course with an emphasis on the design component of the topics. Among the topics covered were power system analysis, refrigeration systems, psychrometrics, combustion, heat exchangers, and numerical heat conduction. Though this list of topics may seem to be a hodgepodge, it is somewhat reflective of the eclectic nature of engineering. Through the use of a theme problem for the course, three computer mini-design projects were conducted. The use of the theme problem provided continuity to the course and demonstrated the engineering relationships of these eclectic topics.

The theme problem chosen was the analysis of a land based gas turbine power system. The three mini-design projects assigned focused on power system analysis, heat exchanger design, and numerical heat conduction. For the first project, students were provided with computer software that allows the thermodynamic simulation of a user specified gas turbine system. Students were asked to consider improvements in thermal efficiency through the optimization of operating conditions and through the use of intercooling and compressor staging processes. An Excel spreadsheet program for the sizing of a plate-frame heat exchanger was used for the second project. The students considered several design alternatives in balancing the heat transfer process with the pressure drop. The third project focused on the problem of turbine blade cooling. The problem was modeled as two-dimensional heat conduction with internal heat generation (actually a heat sink representing the internal cooling). The differential equation was written in finite difference form, and the finite difference grid was laid out over an Excel spreadsheet. The node equations were then entered on the spreadsheet, and the calculate function was used to resolve the circular references that occurred. The students then explored various design aspects of the blade cooling.

In engineering education there is a tendency to partition the educational process; to separate thermodynamics from heat transfer from fluid mechanics, and to isolate mechanical systems from thermal engineering. Engineering in industry does not consist of these isolated disciplines but rather requires a holistic approach. It would appear to be of value to teach a course that cuts across different disciplines and the use of a theme problem in this type of course can provide a common thread in the educational process.

Genik, L. J., & Somerton, C. W. (1999, June), The Use Of A Semester Long Theme Problem In A Senior Level Thermal Engineering Course Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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