(142a) A Co-Teaching Approach to Unit Operations and Capstone Design - Joint Projects

Burkey, D. D., University of Connecticut
Pascal, J., University of Connecticut
In many programs, upperclass chemical engineering students take both their capstone design course as well as a course in unit operations. At the University of Connecticut, the Unit Operations (UO) course also doubles as the process simulation course - students learn about the theory of various unit operations as well as the basics of simulating them in software - in our case ASPEN Plus. The senior Capstone Design course is part of a two-semester sequence in which students work in groups on their chosen design project. The UO class and the first semester of design are offered concurrently in the fall semester.

Several challenges have arisen with this model in recent years. First off, the variety of senior design projects has blossomed. From faculty-sponsored projects evolving out of their research interests to externally sponsored projects from industrial partners, the projects that students work on are increasingly diverse, and do not necessarily lend themselves well to traditional process simulation. Secondly, guidance from ABET has suggested that departments need to be more diligent about assessing individual student achievement in design concepts. As most programs use a group-based approach to senior design projects, assessing individual achievement and competence in design topics can be challenging.

These two challenges - finding a common topic on which to build student knowledge in plant or process design and unit operations, as well as assessing individual achievement in design led us to develop an individually-based mini project that we used as a basis for instruction in both the Unit Operations course and Capstone Design. Students in design still had their year-long group project, but a key feature of the course was also an individual mini-project with multiple intermediate deliverables in both courses that developed knowledge in design, UO, and process simulation.

For our common mini-project we selected the Sabatier Process for in-situ resource production on Mars. The key reaction here is 4H2 + CO2 -> 2H2O + CH4. We divided the project into three main components: Upstream Processing, Reaction, and Downstream Processing. As an example of the structure of the project, Upstream Processing requires both storage of compressed hydrogen as well as compression of Mars ambient carbon dioxide. For the Design Portion of the course, this involved discussion of pressure vessel design as well as the design of the compression scheme. For UO/Process simulation, this involved simulating the compressors in ASPEN and selecting appropriate property models and thermal management. The students had related but different deliverables for each segment of the project due in both courses on the same deadlines, which encouraged them to think holistically about the project, but also allowed them to essentially apply the work from one project to two courses.

By collaborating on the Mini Project, we were able to expose students to multiple concepts across two courses and integrate the content in a meaningful way, as well as ensure that we were able to measure individual student achievement in design concepts across two classes. Each mini-project deliverable was clearly mapped back to both course and ABET objectives. We would encourage any program that has this type of structure to consider a joint project such as this.