Connecting experiment, theory, and physical intuition in heat transfer with a low-cost solar water heater design project

Brent A Nelson, Constantin Ciocanel

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Engineering students often struggle with developing physical, tangible understandings of the theories they learn in the classroom. Additionally, they often struggle when faced with messy, non-idealized, real-world systems as opposed to the idealized geometries and assemblies frequently encountered within classrooms and textbooks. As such, they also rarely have the opportunity to learn how experimental design and theoretical modeling work together to understand practical systems. To address these shortcomings, a low-cost solar water heater design project was developed and integrated concurrently between a mechanical engineering heat transfer course and a thermal systems laboratory course. The low-cost constraint reinforced physical understanding of heat transfer concepts and ensured messy, non-ideal designs to which theoretical modeling could not be neatly applied. A heat transfer concept inventory to assess student learning showed minimal gains in student understanding while a self-report attitude survey administered to the students demonstrated that they perceived the design project to be a valuable and enjoyable learning experience. Students failed, however, to understand the complementary nature of experimentation and theoretical modeling. Improved coordination between the two classes was needed to fully realize this benefit, and will be implemented in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2010
Event2010 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Louisville, KY, United States
Duration: Jun 20 2010Jun 23 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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