Fairfield receives $50,000 grant for mechanical engineering labs



Funds will lead to more experiential learning opportunities for students

Image: SOE studentsFairfield University's School of Engineering will be upgrading its Mechanical Engineering teaching laboratories, including the  thermal-hydraulics laboratory, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Earl and Hilda Brinkman Family Foundation.

Jack Beal, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering, said the new equipment, tools and computer packages purchased with the funds are helping to introduce engineering concepts to students. The skill set students will acquire will be valuable for working in numerous industries, including manufacturing. Mechanical engineering has a very broad spectrum of applications in all aspects of modern technology including studies in static and dynamic stems, materials science, fluid and gas dynamics, thermodynamics and heat transfer, and energy systems. Central to the production of ships, cars, engines and power plants, for example, it's an area of engineering that entails using heat and mechanical power for the design and operation of machines and tools.

The mechanical engineering curriculum at Fairfield is constructed to include abundant experiential learning. This is accomplished through the integration of laboratory experiences within the basic curriculum, and by making use of well-equipped laboratories and computing facilities.

"One of the best methods for introducing engineering topics is through the use of hands-on experiential learning," Beal said. "This hands-on experience then couples with the theoretical framework from the classroom, reinforcing overall learning by the students - a critical issue particularly for first and second year engineering majors."

Shahrokh Etemad, Ph.D. chair of the mechanical engineering department and director of the School's M.S. Graduate Program, said that the Brinkman Family funding will further enhance experimental laboratory exercises in the energy and thermo-fluid engineering areas. "Our students will benefit through classroom demonstration as well as by conducting experiments as part of energy labs. The new experiments will be synchronized with the lectures to improve their effectiveness."

The new equipment includes:

Fluid flow and hydraulic/pneumatic apparatus
Heat conduction and radiation equipment
Heat engine cycles; solar energy transfer systems
Thermoelectric energy transfer systems
Hydrogen fuel cell systems

Additional items, such as mechanical wave motion drivers, will serve to enhance teaching and learning in statics and dynamics of mechanical systems. Additional equipment packages providing lessons in this area of study include "flexible" I-beams with load cells and strain gages; and demonstration bridge sets with load cells and strain gages.

"All of these equipment packages will be interfaced with existing computers so that students can accumulate real data and analyze the data with available software packages such as MatLab," Beal noted.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 17, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 152