“Classical thermodynamics is the only physical theory of universal content, which I am convinced, that within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts will never be overthrown.” ~ Albert Einstein

Once you know thermo, there is no going back. As we’ll discover, entropy is irreversible. There may not be another class that establishes both a direction for time, a potential for change, and the math behind needing to experience the material in many ways.

At the same time, there has never been a more urgent time in history to understand energy and the effects of it’s usage on the environment.

Suffice it to say, we need ALL of you leaving this class with a mastery of thermodynamics. And you are not enough, we need your families and friends as well.

It won’t be easy

Thermodynamics, as a field of study, has remained relatively bound by two universal physical laws for over a century. It is an incredibly well structured topic. It has also been historically used as a weed out class. I estimate that about 33% of students in my former classes haven’t made it to the end. So what I want to do is make a commitment to change that. Starting right now.

Please, grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Now stand up. Exchange your contact information with at least three of your new neighbors. By accepting their info, you are making a commitment to help them through the hard times — there will be many. You will need a circle of friends to do well in this class. Throughout the animal kingdom it is well known that animals who play together are smarter. The act of teaching something to someone likely helps the teacher as much, or even more than the students.  So I need you to help eachother as much as possible.

Now please, may I have a volunteer who is somewhat proficient with facebook? They will form the group and invite everyone. Over the years I’ve found that you are more successful when you have a forum to exchange concepts and ideas (not solutions). So we’re going to create a facebook group for this class for just you students. I found that Blackboard is terrible at facilitating duplex communications between students. But also found that you both gain more from helping eachother, and are faster to respond when someone is stuck on something (especially at 11 pm), than if you go through me. I’ve also found that you’re honest with eachother in these forums. I have not had problems with someone giving someone else a solution — I take great care in writing my own problems that are inherently interesting and relevant to our region.  So somebody is going to have to do them anyways, and giving a solution away is only enabling them to not learn the topic, which ends up hurting big time on the exams. Thermo is not that easy.

To ensure we break the habit of you coming to me for help instead of your classmates. I don’t hold office hours. I don’t give handouts. For more on this read my post “Don’t feed the bears of engineering education.” By helping yourselves to help eachother you will be more likely to survive the harsh reality of the working world. There is a recitation session on Tuesdays and Thursday from 4-6 in Sloan 175 for you to work together with your classmates (note the three exception days in the syllabus).  If you come to me with a question, I’ll ask you if you posted it to your classmates or a recitation time first. Note my cellphone number is on the syllabus should something extraordinary arise.

Over the course of this class you will literally be wiring your brain to see the world in an entirely different way. That’s not easy. I can’t just reach in and change your brain. Want to know thermo? I’ve got everything on a single page you’ll need. Here it is:

If it were only that easy! Thermodynamics itself explains how it’s going to take a lot of work to become efficient at this. At least the topics naturally build off of eachother. Everything is connected in thermo and I’ll teach you a process — that will stay very much the same over the course of the semester. You will have plenty of time to get comfortable with it. Let’s take a look at the ME 301 syllabus f2017.

To emphasize the PROCESS of solving thermodynamic problems, I use several tools that remove a lot of the busy work. Engineering Equation Solver (EES) greatly reduces time spent on problems. At the end of last spring I surveyed the class on whether to keep EES or use an alternative. 22 out of 23 said that we should keep EES even if it costs more. The bottom line is you will solve your problems faster, with fewer mistakes, and have more capabilities if you use EES in this class. For more on this read my post, “Calculators are Typewriters“.

So is the work worth it? I believe so and here is my commitment to you. I’ve tracked performance in thermodynamics on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam over the years. Here’s how students who’ve taken my thermo class have performed:

As you can see, something about the method I teach has caused the highest scores in thermo over the last decade, irregardless of overall exam performance, and are well above the national average. It should be emphasized that the way I teach is ENTIRELY different from the types of problems you’ll get on the FE exam. I only multiple choice with my 4 year old. So I understand this as people understanding the material.

A gateway to new opportunities

Most of my graduate students end up at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company in Kent. Leaders from the thermo-fluids group are now using EES throughout the group and have told me they need many more employees trained with this capability. Blue is one of many that have told me this. This class will open up new job opportunities.

Over the course of this semester various student competition opportunities will come up. If you have the bandwidth and are willing, we have a substantial track record of students winning $1000’s of dollars and coming up with patentable concepts. So stay tuned for announcements.

This is going to be an adventure and you’re invited! But it won’t be easy. Once you know entropy, it’s irreversible.