This lab is used for an upper-level course typically taken by students in their fourth or fifth year of study. Students work in assigned teams to complete a self-selected, open-ended project in experimental design, involving theoretical and empirical analyses of some fluidic, thermodynamic, and/or thermal system. They develop the concept, perform the analysis, build a simplified test facility, collect the data, compare the results, and suggest improvements to the model and the test facility. Classes are highly interactive discussions rather than lectures, with groups sharing weekly progress and plans, and working together to move all of the projects forward. Therefore, the laboratory space is structured more like a conference room, with working space and equipment storage on the periphery. Communication and collaboration skills are emphasized and developed.
After successfully completing this course, students achieve a higher level of understanding of, and proficiency in, the tasks of qualitative treatment of real systems, development and implementation of analytical models, design and implementation of experimental investigations, and validation of results. These are all critical skills for practicing engineers. The process of engineering design makes frequent use of testing and validation tasks to reverse engineer products, to establish benchmark operating parameters, to explore functionalities of systems and components, to collect supervisory performance data, to verify design analyses and predictions, to establish governing correlations of phenomenological characteristics, and so on. These are the sorts of tasks that define “experimentation” in an engineering context.
Equipment and resources in this lab are intended to support the types of projects that are selected for the course. Basic equipment includes: a thermocouple welder; several thermocouple dataloggers and indicators; a variety of data acquisition and signal conditioning hardware, with dedicated computers; a selection of centrifugal pumps; a portable air compressor; various stepper motors and controls; wire and connectors; soldering stations; project boxes; electrical components; analog and digital power controls; a selection of higher-speed cameras; power supplies; electrical heaters; pressure sensors and gages; flow meters and gages; a selection of load cells and spring scales; multimeters and oscilloscopes; buckets and tanks; a high-output blower with speed control; small box fans; heat sinks; insulating materials; other spare parts and surplus building materials.