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Workshop Exercises For Connecting Fundamentals To Equipment In The First Thermodynamics Course

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.728.1 - 5.728.10

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Timothy C. Scott

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John P. O'Connell

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

Session 2333

Workshop Exercises for Connecting Fundamentals to Equipment in the First Thermodynamics Course

J.P. O’Connell, T.C. Scott University of Virginia


Using balance equations for mass, energy and entropy and property diagrams for analysis, design and intuition about thermodynamic processes is a basic skill which many students find difficult to master. The abstractness of these fundamental relationships and graphs requires students to have moved from concrete to abstract thinking, but this often has not occurred by the second year. Further, many students lack essential connections between scientific/technological descriptions and physical behavior of real systems. We believe that a successful first course in engineering thermodynamics must address these issues by careful and comprehensive pedagogy and assessment. This paper describes our approach that involves laboratory workshops.

In our course is taken principally by mechanical and chemical engineering majors. For it, we have developed nearly a dozen 1-hour laboratory sessions to augment classroom activities and to facilitate student growth in connecting descriptions to behavior. These include 1) simple custom devices such as piston/cylinder systems and instrumented spray bottles of refrigerant, 2) "familiar" household devices such as bicycle generators, refrigerators and room air conditioners, and 3) university steam generator and chiller facilities. The goal is to engage learners and then lead them through directed exploration, schematic representation and thermodynamic calculation to establish a comprehensive view.

In addition to the developments and workshop exercises we currently use, we discuss our mixed success in this effort. It seems that for students to achieve any level of mastery, we are limited by the time it takes to overcome their deficiencies in certain very basic knowledge and skills. It is likely that teachers often overlook such impediments to deep learning when preparing foundational courses. We are continuing to refine our techniques to achieve the highest possible level of success.

1. Introduction

Thermodynamics is a discipline that deals with energy utilization as constrained by Natural Laws that are expressed in fundamental properties and with its applications via mathematical models. Its study is basic to science and engineering and it is a core subject in many engineering curricula.

Thermodynamics challenges students in several ways1,2. First, to get to the stage of making reliable and efficient applications requires knowing the fundamental principles and using procedures that are abstract and mathematical. Next, teaching styles and structures based on problem-solving methodologies or on deductive reasoning can require students to discover for

Scott, T. C., & O'Connell, J. P. (2000, June), Workshop Exercises For Connecting Fundamentals To Equipment In The First Thermodynamics Course Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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