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Thermodynamics Where Does It Fit?

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Curricular Issues in BAE

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1196.1 - 8.1196.11



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Paper Authors

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Bill Tollner

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


Thermodynamics – where does it fit?

Ernest W. Tollner Biol. & Agr. Engineering Dept. University of Georgia Athens, GA 30602

Abstract With the advent of biological engineering and with the changing of emphasis in many agricultural engineering programs around the country, it is time for a fresh look into how some of our engineering science courses are structured. The ongoing shrinkage in the number of hours available in the typical undergraduate curriculum around the US further reinforces this need. Some have proposed alternative treatments of thermodynamics in our discipline. A comprehensive treatment of thermodynamics meeting the needs of all biological and bioresource engineers is not practical at the undergraduate level. The paper will discuss concepts relating to melding relevant thermodynamic concepts with heat transfer for bioresource or agricultural engineers. A similar melding of relevant thermodynamic concepts with a basic physical (bio)chemistry course or basic mass transport course found in biological curriculums could meet the need for these engineers. Similarly, through various modules, thermodynamics instruction may also be linked to 3rd and 4 th year courses in the traditional agricultural and bioresource curriculum. The use of modules may facilitate the delivery of the materials to diverse audiences, and several are proposed and some existing ones are discussed. A case is made for a thorough coverage of the topic at the graduate level.

Background The word thermodynamics was coined about 1840 from two Greek roots: therme, heat and dynamis, power (Haynie, 2001). Based on the strict interpretation of the word, one expects that thermodynamics will have to do with heat and power or its storage, transformation and dissipation. Thermodynamics aims to describe and relate the physical properties of systems of energy and matter. Undergraduate students of engineering often survey the rudiments of thermodynamics in their physics courses, and then move on to one or more courses dealing with aspects of Thermodynamics. On completing these courses, the operational definition of thermodynamics typically becomes very specific, relating to work, heat, enthalpy, entropy, equation of state and simple compressible substances. The student pursuing mechanical engineering would add various power cycle applications to their concept. The student who is pursuing chemical or materials engineering will add such concepts as Gibbs functions and chemical potentials to their concept of thermodynamics. Concepts such as Maxwell relationships may be in the deep recesses but mean very little in that they rarely carry over to other courses. Systems beyond the simple compressible substance, if introduced, frequently go unappreciated by students. Textbooks may address topics such as statistical thermodynamics, irreversible thermodynamics and other “far out” topics. Students learn that everything in the universe should be approaching a steady equilibrium state, which seems to be at odds with the

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Tollner, B. (2003, June), Thermodynamics Where Does It Fit? Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11602

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