Journal Title

121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Publication Date



Thermodynamics is a difficult course for many undergraduate students due in part to the complex nature of the concepts learned. Pedagogical literature has suggested that students learn difficult concepts better when they are presented in different formats that address different learning styles (verbal, visual, etc). During the last two years a new student project called “thermodynamics in the arts” has challenged students in an introductory thermodynamics course to represent one thermodynamic concept in an art project. Each team of students selected a thermodynamic concept and a different art medium including poetry, sculpture, music, painting, drawing, photography, and creative essays. Concepts the students visualized included entropy, enthalpy, irreversibility, exergy, phase change, Carnot cycle, Brayton cycle, internal energy, work, radiation, convection, and conduction. Assessment of the artwork used a rubric that included artistic merit, but also the accuracy of the thermodynamic concept explored. A survey of the participating students was conducted to determine if the intersection of art and thermodynamics helped the students construct more concrete understanding of the concepts chosen. This paper explores the student perceptions of the project, presents examples of the student art projects, and provides an overview of the pedagogical merits of the project. Student survey results strongly support keeping the project for future classes. Student art examples demonstrate the success of the project and a nuanced depth of conceptual understanding of the material.


Engineering--Study and teaching--United States; Engineering--Thermodynamics; Undergraduate students

Publication Information

121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, 2014, 1-13.

© 2014 American Association for Engineering Education

Archived version is final published version.

Document Type

Conference Presentation