Exposing chemical engineering students to real world problems: health care and renewable energy systems
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High school and entry level engineering students seldom have a good understanding of the types of problems that chemical engineers solve. Two design projects have been developed to introduce high school and entry level engineering students to real world problems related to health care and energy systems. We have found that through these design projects our students begin to understand the breadth of chemical engineering. For our Engineering in Health Care design project, students are introduced to a patient suffering from kidney disease, who explains her experience with dialysis in a professional produced video segment. The students then go through a number of hands-on activities, demonstrations and computer simulation where they learn about the factors that influence dialysis. The patient and her doctor then challenge the students to design, build and test a hemodialysis system. The hemodialysis system must remove a minimum amount of ‘impurities’ from simulated blood, while minimizing both the cost of the dialysate (water) and the hemodialysis system. The teams subsequently evaluate the performance of the prototype that they create. The second design project, Engineering Energy Solutions, focuses on the world’s energy crisis. As the world moves further into the 21st century, the need for development in the field of renewable energy is becoming more apparent. The amount of fossil fuels available continues to decline and statistics show that only one barrel of oil is discovered for every six that are utilized. In fact, if the current rate of consumption is maintained, worldwide oil reserves are slated to last only for the next forty years. Therefore it is essential that renewable energy technology must continue to grow. The next generation of students represents those engineers who will struggle with energy issues over the ensuing century. In our Engineering Energy Solutions design project, students are asked to design, construct, test, and evaluate a system for collecting, storing, transporting, converting, and utilizing renewable energy from a water, wind, or solar source. The overall goal of the project is to light a 1 cell AAA Maglite® light bulb after being allowed to collect energy for 45 minutes and up to two hours. As part of the INSPIRES (INcreasing Student Participation, Interest and Recruitment in Engineering and Science) Curriculum (funded by the NSF), the design projects have been tested with a wide range of students who include: high school pre-engineering students, freshmen engineering students and sophomore and junior chemical engineering students. In conjunction with the design projects a series of hands-on activities and mini design challenges have been developed to enhance the understanding of the fundamental principles related to the design challenge. A web based tutorial features interactive animations and design simulations that allow students to adjust parameters to investigate the effect that each has on the efficiency of their simulated design. In addition, an on-line tutorial features pre and post assessments on content knowledge of the design process and underlying concepts. The results of these assessments will be compiled and presented; as well as details of the design projects and their solutions.