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Women, Food, And Cf Cs: A Technological Literacy Course Based On The History Of Refrigeration

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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

4.603.1 - 4.603.11

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Karl Stephan

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

Session 3661

Women, Food, and CFCs: A Technological Literacy Course Based On the History of Refrigeration

Karl D. Stephan Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst, Mass. 01003


This paper describes “Engineering, the Human Enterprise,” a technological literacy course which was first offered at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall of 1997. The course treats the common household technology of refrigeration from historical, technical, and environmental points of view. Following a review of domestic American housekeeping and the problems associated with food preservation, the history of the natural ice industry in the U. S. is traced from its beginnings in the 1820s through its demise after the advent of mechanical refrigeration. We then introduce enough qualitative thermodynamics concepts to enable students to understand the basic vapor-compression refrigeration cycle, aided by instructional software developed specifically for the course. In the last part of the course, students learn how the chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants hailed as “wonder chemicals” in the 1930s turned into a global environmental problem in the 1970s, and write term papers in which they explore a particular concept or issue of their choice in greater depth.

Student response to the course has been positive. The same basic historical problem- solution-problem format can be applied to other technologies, including the automobile, elec- tronic communications, and the computer. A discussion of curricular and philosophical issues relating to technological literacy courses such as this one concludes the paper.

I. Introduction

Professional schools such as law, medicine, and engineering have not traditionally offered courses designed for students who do not plan to enter the school’s profession. There are at least two reasons to offer such courses, however. First, the motivation for so-called “service courses” is utilitarian. For example, engineering students need foundations in mathematics and physics which are best taught by members of the departments of mathematics and physics, which there- fore offer service courses to students in other departments. Since the study of engineering at the undergraduate level has not traditionally provided a foundation for the practice of any profession other than engineering, few non-engineering students take engineering courses for purely utilitar- ian reasons.

Stephan, K. (1999, June), Women, Food, And Cf Cs: A Technological Literacy Course Based On The History Of Refrigeration Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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