Understanding Thermodynamics — There’s an App for That

July 24, 2015

Professor Shikha Nangia is developing interactive web-based simulations that will transform fundamental chemical engineering concepts into hands-on, active learning applications. The interactive applications will simulate realistic physical systems in two-dimensional graphs, equations, and diagrams. “The ideas in my undergraduate thermodynamics class are very abstract and I find that students struggle to understand some aspects of it, so I tried to make it very interactive. I wanted to give them certain tools that will hypothetically take them to places that are difficult to convey,” she explains. These mathematical simulations feature sliders and levers that students can manipulate to change the conditions of an equation to visualize the outcome, allowing students to see the full spectrum of possibilities and how they relate to one another. The simulations will be free of charge online for students in her class, and they will have access to use them as they like. Two examples are currently available on Nangia’s website. This fall, she will require students to develop conceptual questions based on what they observe while using the application. These student-generated questions will be used for weekly quizzes. This teaching activity will foster inquiry, initiative, and teamwork among students. “I want to make them think outside of the box and truly reason it out. I want to entrench the concept in their learning so that they understand it completely and ask intelligent questions,” says Nangia. Nangia’s work is funded by her selection as one of three Syracuse University College of Engineering and Computer Science professors to receive this year’s Faculty Excellence Awards. The awards provide summer funding for faculty to develop innovative new educational student experiences. The Faculty Excellence Awards are made possible by the generosity of chemical engineering alumnus and department advisory board member Brian Beals ’64 and his wife, Emily.