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Twenty Years Of Experiences In Computer Modeling Of Thermodynamic Cycles

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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

Energy Programs and Software Tools

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1212.1 - 8.1212.10

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Paper Authors

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Frank Wicks

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

ASEE 2003-1703 for Energy Conversion and Conservation Division

“Twenty Years of Experiences in Computer Modeling of Thermodynamic Cycles” Professor Frank Wicks Mechanical Engineering Department, Union College


What we are told we easily forget, but the things we do we understand! Engineering education works best when the students are not overly subjected to listening, but have ample opportunity to do. Computer use in education provides a more subtle example of this principle. Students, like current engineers in industry, now run a variety of commercial application software to perform various calculations and simulations. The danger is that too often they do not understand the underlying principles, mathematical modeling and assumptions.

The author’s first experience was twenty years ago. It was an era when mainframe, timeshare and what was then called minicomputers were used for academic research, but personal computers were not yet available. There was no computer use in an undergraduate classroom. The author decided to do some pioneering course development by programming various thermodynamic and nuclear power plant simulations on a time share computer for the benefit of his students in these courses.

During the development he realized that he was enhancing his own understanding of cycles and power plant dynamics. This was because of the long hours and intense concentration that was required for the project. Models were developed of Carnot, Otto, Diesel, Brayton and Rankine cycles. The piston cylinder cycles showed a piston moving up and down with simultaneous display of properties, work and heat and the development of a 1 st law process and cycle table and resulting efficiency.

The nuclear power plant simulation displayed the components and response to throttle, control rod motion, change in flow and a scram. Separately the reactor kinetics were programmed in Basic on an Atari 400 game computer with time responses of input and output responses traced on a TV screen.

The next step was to take the students to the computer room to execute the simulations. It was discouraging, but then understandable, to realize that the students were not learning much. Asteroids was the hugely popular video game at the time. Students executed the programs like they were playing such a video game.

The lesson learned was that the professor had learned by developing the programs, but the students were deprived of the development experience. It was 20 years later when that the author revived computer based simulations, by having students do their own development on their personal computers. While the result is less sophisticated, the

Wicks, F. (2003, June), Twenty Years Of Experiences In Computer Modeling Of Thermodynamic Cycles Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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