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Writing About Thermodynamics

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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

Advancing Thermal Science Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1318.1 - 8.1318.9



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Paper Authors

author page

Michael Furey

author page

Eugene Brown

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

Session 1166


Michael J. Furey, Eugene F. Brown

Department of Mechanical Engineering Virginia Tech Blacksburg, Virginia 24061


This paper describes an optional writing assignment in thermodynamics initiated several years ago by the first author in two undergraduate engineering courses. Essay topics were not assigned but were chosen by students from one of two general categories: making a connection between thermodynamics and the student’s major discipline (e.g., Civil Engineering) or focusing on an environmental issue involving thermodynamics (e.g., energy). Examples of the diverse topics selected for essays are given together with some general observations on the writings. There are benefits to this exercise for both students and teachers and these are briefly discussed.


For decades, the mechanical engineering department at Virginia Tech has offered service courses in engineering thermodynamics to the College. The population for these courses is drawn from junior/senior level students in the departments of aerospace and ocean engineering, mining and minerals engineering, industrial and systems engineering, electrical and computer engineering, engineering science and mechanics, biological systems engineering, and the civil and environmental engineering departments. The courses are ME-3114: Engineering Thermodynamics and ME-3134: Fundamentals of Thermodynamics. The latter is aimed at Aerospace and Ocean Engineering students. Neither course is taught to mechanical engineering students.

It has always been a challenge to engage this group of students with the intent of establishing the relevance of the material. For several years the second author has attempted to address this challenge by meeting with faculty members in each of the departments from which our students come. They have been asked what they feel is the relevance of thermodynamics to the courses which their students subsequently take, and to indicate how we can provide their students with the appropriate background. In some cases it has been possible to establish a direct connection. For example, in mining and minerals engineering where in one course a “heat engine” model of mine ventilation is used and in aerospace and ocean engineering where an application to propulsion devices exits, it is possible to provide a direct and natural connection. But in many cases, the connection is either not immediate or is more related to heat transfer than to thermodynamics. Examples which come to mind include connections with electronic-equipment cooling requirements or machine-tool design. Suffice it to say that in general this faculty-centered

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

Furey, M., & Brown, E. (2003, June), Writing About Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12392

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2003 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015