Thermal-Fluids Engineering: The Engine of Innovation
From the time of Caesar until the advent of the railroad in the 19th century, there were no major changes in mechanics that made a trip around the world faster, cheaper, or safer. In the fewer than 200 years since passenger railroads were introduced, however, transportation technology has advanced to such an extent that one can travel the globe with relative comfort and ease in a single day. Such is one impact of mechanical engineering in modern history.
The engine - an integrated system for converting thermal to mechanical energy - is central to classic mechanical engineering research. And the three key areas of knowledge required to understand power systems - fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer - are an important part of the core MechE curriculum at MIT. Integrated into a single year-long subject (2.005/2.006), these three areas are as inextricably linked in mechanical engineering instruction as they are in real-world thermal-fluid systems.
An integrated course of study
According to Professor John Brisson, "Thermal-fluid systems are extremely complex. We believe there is a real value in the integrated sequencing of the subject areas. With important contributions from a number of faculty, particularly Professor Ernest Cravalho, we piloted one version of the new curriculum, assessed how it was working, made modifications, and now students get a strong blend of all three areas throughout the academic year, giving them the mechanical foundation they need to progress in their education and careers."
Broadly categorized, 2.005 focuses on the fundamental principles of fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer; while 2.006 broadens these concepts and applies these principles in the design and analysis of systems such as heat exchangers, turbine engines, and refrigeration plants.
Skills that lead to solutions
Says Brisson, "We expect students to construct an argument, to generate a solution rather than follow one given to them or simply regurgitate a formula. In the working world, people will look to them and expect them to say something intelligent about a problem they've never seen before. We hope to give them the analytical tools and problem-solving skills they'll need."