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ThermoVR: A Virtual Laboratory to Enhance Learning in Undergraduate Thermodynamics

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Thermal Fluid Related

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


John M. Pfotenhauer University of Wisconsin - Madison

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Professor John M. Pfotenhauer earned his BA, MA, and PhD degrees in physics from St. Olaf College and the University of Oregon in 1979, 1981, and 1984. For eight years he conducted research as part of the Applied Superconductivity Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison before joining the faculty there in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, and Engineering Physics in 1993. In addition to his research in cryogenics, and in educational games, he teaches courses in thermodynamics, heat transfer, energy systems laboratory, cryogenics, and vacuum technology.

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David J Gagnon University of Wisconsin - Madison

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David Gagnon is the director of Field Day, an educational video games studio and research lab in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

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An interactive Virtual Reality (VR) based simulator is being used as part of a virtual laboratory activity with undergraduates in mechanical engineering to help them learn key thermodynamics principles. This virtual laboratory is designed to enhance the success rate of students grappling with the challenging array of thermodynamic property relationships. At the core of this laboratory is a simulation of the IAPWS-95 and IAPWS-97 equation of state. The simulator visualizes these phenomena using the ubiquitous example of a piston-cylinder system as well as a 3D plot. This design affords input in terms of relatable processes such as adding a heater or a weight to a system and visualizes the results of the various processes (isothermal, isentropic, etc.) in terms of observable changes to the piston-cylinder system as well as movement of the state within a 3D plot. Constant property lines, such as isotherms, isentropes, or isenthalps allow students to also survey the minimal or dramatic changes in any of the properties during such a process. This report presents features of the fully operating virtual labratory and presents observations from its initial use with students in their undergraduate introductory thermodynamics course.

Pfotenhauer, J. M., & Gagnon, D. J. (2021, July), ThermoVR: A Virtual Laboratory to Enhance Learning in Undergraduate Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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