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DOI: 10.1615/ICHMT.2012.CHT-12.20
pages 11-18

Brian Spalding
Imperial College, London and CHAM, Ltd., UK


Traditional engineering education, like its underlying sciences, has two main aspects: theoretical and experimental; and the first of these also has two parts:
• quantitative formulation of the relevant general laws of science; and
• deduction of their implications in particular practical circumstances.
The deductions are conducted by mathematical methods in which differential calculus plays a large part. Students lacking proficiency in such methods are not admitted to engineering schools. Observers who remark that few practising engineers ever exercise that proficiency have long doubted the wisdom of the disbarment; and of the excessive attention to functional analysis in engineering curricula. Now that the digital computer makes all the deductions which are needed in engineering practice, those doubts must be seriously addressed. Differential calculus applies the laws of science to infinitesimal volumes; and it expresses its deductions in terms of a handful of time-honoured pre- tabulated functions: exponential, logarithmic, trigonometric, etc. Only rarely do experiments show that reality conforms to them well enough for use in equipment design, without the application of large safety factors. Computer-based analysis applies the laws to finite volumes; and suffers no restraint on the form of its tabulated results. Experiments show that reality conforms closely to its deductions very often. Safety factors can therefore be much nearer to unity; with great economic advantage. The present lecturer argues that these facts should be reflected in both the admission procedures and the teaching methods of engineering education. In respect of the second, detailed suggestions are offered as to what should be done. The suggestions are applicable generally across the whole of engineering education; but, being presented at a conference on Computational Heat Transfer (CHT), they are here exemplified by application to heat-exchanger theory.

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