ENGS 25: Thermodynamics

This week I talked to Colin Heffernan ’15 about his experience taking ENGS 25: Introduction to Thermodynamics.

The class seeks to develop the fundamental concepts and methods of thermodynamics around the first and second laws. It strives to teach and emphasize the distinctions between heat, work, and energy. The class attempts to explain and analyze the common processes for generating work, heat, or refrigeration or changing the physical or chemical state of materials.

The class uses a hands-on approach, using real thermodynamic data and auxiliary functions such as entropy, enthalpy, and free energy are integrated in the analyses conducted through class. The problems presented to student show how theoretical energy requirements and the limitations on feasible processes can be estimated. The class requires completing a term-long project in which the students build a stirling engine and attempt to make it spin at the highest possible revolutions per minute.

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Colin finishes assembling the parts of his stirling engine

Colin says that taking the class has been a great experience. “The hands on experience you get,” he says, “is something that can’t be taught in the classroom, and that you can’t get anywhere else.” Colin says his time inside the shop was mostly spent listening to TA’s who taught and physically show him the ropes.

When asked about his favorite part of the class, Colin says, “My favorite thing about the class is just learning how our world works. An additional assignment you may want to cover is our one page projects in which we wrote a short thermodynamic analysis of something that interests us in the world. For instance, I wrote about a microwave oven and how it cooks differently than a conventional oven. Details like these are really interesting and are definitely taken for granted by most people in the world.” He adds that “Professor Ackerman’s conceptual questions at the end of each class were also a great part of the class. She basically introduced a certain process or phenomenon that occurs in the world and challenged us to explain it in thermodynamics terms.”

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Colin puts the finishing touches on his stirling engine

“The professors here are incredibly dedicated to our learning, and the machining experience I’ve had as a result of this class have made this an incredible class to take. I feel like I’ve learned the material very well, and I now have machining experience. Also, Just being in the machine shop was a valuable experience in the skills I developed. I definitely owe a huge thank you to the machine shop staff and TA’s because they were the ones really working hard to help us with the engines. The stirling engine is a fun way to see thermodynamics equations in action while competing with classmates for the most efficient product. Looking back on the term, I’m very glad I took this class.”

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Students work on finishing their stirling engines

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