A new approach to understanding engineering thermodynamics from its molecular basis

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Conference Proceeding
ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, Proceedings (IMECE), 2012, 5 pp. 1 - 10
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Engineering Thermodynamics is that engineering science in which students learn to analyze dynamic systems involving energy transformations, particularly where some of the energy is in the form of heat. It is well known that people have difficulty in understanding many of the concepts of thermodynamics; in particular, entropy and its consequences. However, even more widely known concepts such as energy and temperature are not simply defined or explained. Why is this lack of understanding and clarity of definition prevalent in this subject? Older engineering thermodynamics textbooks (often containing the words heat engines in the title) had a strong emphasis in their early chapters on the general physical details of thermodynamic equipment such as internal and external combustion engines, gas compressors and refrigeration systems. The working fluid in these systems might expand or contract while heat, work and mass might cross the system boundary. The molecular workings within the thermodynamic fluid are not of prime concern to the engineer even though they are to a physicist or chemist. Modern engineering thermodynamics textbooks place great emphasis on mathematical systems designed to analyze the behavior and performance of thermodynamic devices and systems, yet they rarely show, at least early in their presentation, graphical images of the equipment; moreover, they tend to give only passing reference to the molecular behavior of the thermodynamic fluid. This paper presents some teaching strategies for placing a greater emphasis on the physical realities of the equipment in conjunction with the molecular structure of the working fluid in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of thermodynamic performance limitations of equipment. Copyright © 2012 by ASME.
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