Due to the rapid advances in computer technology, intelligent computer software and multimedia have become essential parts of engineering education. Software integration with various media such as graphics, sound, video and animation is providing efficient tools for teaching and learning. A modern textbook should contain both the basic theory and principles, along with an updated pedagogy.
Often traditional engineering thermodynamics courses are devoted only to analysis, with the expectation that students will be introduced later to relevant design considerations and concepts. Cycle analysis is logically and traditionally the focus of applied thermodynamics. Type and quantity are constrained, however, by the computational efforts required. The ability for students to approach realistic complexity is limited. Even analyses based upon grossly simplified cycle models can be computationally taxing, with limited educational benefits. Computerized look-up tables reduce computational labor somewhat, but modeling cycles with many interactive loops can lie well outside the limits of student and faculty time budgets.
The need for more design content in thermodynamics books is well documented by industry and educational oversight bodies such as ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Today, thermodynamic systems and cycles are fertile ground for engineering design. For example, niches exist for innovative power generation systems due to deregulation, co-generation, unstable fuel costs and concern for global warming.
Professor Kenneth Forbus of the computer science and education department at Northwestern University has developed ideal intelligent computer software for thermodynamic students called CyclePad. CyclePad is a cognitive engineering software. It creates a virtual laboratory where students can efficiently learn the concepts of thermodynamics, and allows systems to be analyzed and designed in a simulated, interactive computer aided design environment. The software guides students through a design process and is able to provide explanations for results and to coach students in improving designs. Like a professor or senior engineer, CyclePad knows the laws of thermodynamics and how to apply them. If the user makes an error in design, the program is able to remind the user of essential principles or design steps that may have been overlooked. If more help is needed, the program can provide a documented, case study that recounts how engineers have resolved similar problems in real life situations. CyclePad eliminates the tedium of learning to apply thermodynamics, and relates what the user sees on the computer screen to the design of actual systems.
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