Way to engineer a cool response


November 24, 2006

Thermodynamics can, perhaps, sometimes appear a bit of an old, somewhat involved and not very lively subject. This book demonstrates magnificently that it is a hot topic of great relevance to all aspects of technology. In a truly Herculean effort, Stephen Turns has produced a book that seems to make it impossible not to become first curious and then very well versed in the applications of thermodynamics to engineering. I think the book is ideal for any undergraduate course. It can be studied at various levels and will be an excellent source of motivation and inspiration for students. Moreover, it is an endless resource for individual study and exam preparation.

The book makes good use of pedagogical devices. Each chapter starts with a list of learning objectives and a chapter overview, and each chapter is followed by a key concepts section and a definitions checklist, a list of references and a handy overview of notation, a long list of qualitative questions, and each chapter ends with a phenomenal list of quantitative problems. The list of 100-150 problems is conveniently ordered in subject areas. The book is richly illustrated throughout and plenty of diagrams make following the explanations straightforward. Very little mathematics is assumed, of which the most advanced consist of the simplest forms of differential equations and integrals. To help the reader to gradually become familiar with the material, each chapter contains many worked examples. Most of these are typical engineering problems, involving things such as pistons or turbines. But some of the examples and problems are more imaginative and stimulating. I stumbled over the following example, which I find particularly good: "Consider a 6cm-diameter orange growing on a tree. A cold front causes the ambient temperature to drop rapidly from 50F to 30F. Estimate the initial rate of temperature change (dT/dt) of the orange if the convective heat-transfer coefficient is approximately 1.5W/m2K." The author has also taken care to put material in historical context, which adds to the book's appeal.

The book covers traditional introductory material for engineers. Fundamental ideas are described in a "Beginnings" chapter followed by an explanation of how thermodynamics and processes are related in general. The importance of mass and energy conservation is described, and the first and second laws of thermodynamics are explained. These concepts are then specifically applied to steady-flow devices and power production, propulsion and thermal engines in the final two chapters.

The pages are colour coded to make it easy to navigate the book at one of the three levels: basic, intermediate or advanced. A comprehensive index makes it straightforward to find the relevant sections in a book so big that few will ever read it cover to cover. A CD is included with the software from the National Institute of Standards and Technology on "Thermophysical properties of pure fluids" (NIST12 version 5.2), which should be very useful when solving many of the problems. Solutions, images and PowerPoint presentations are available from a password-protected Cambridge University Press website.

Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen is professor of mathematical physics, Imperial College London.

Thermodynamics: Concepts and Applications. First Edition

Author - Stephen R. Turns
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 756
Price - £40.00
ISBN - 0 521 85042 8

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