The undergraduate curriculum in the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering gives equal importance to lab and classroom education. To serve this purpose, our department has dedicated teaching labs that educate, train and help students relate theory with practice through hands-on laboratory sessions.
Thermal Science Lab
In the Thermal Science Lab, experiments are conducted on fundamental principles of fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and heat transfer, covering a range of topics such as hydrostatics, Bernoulli equation, impact jets, aerodynamic forces, heat pump cycles, thermodynamic cycles, heat exchanger design and convection heat transfer.
Students use their knowledge of heat transfer, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics for analysis of heat exchangers, turbo-machinery, refrigeration cycles and piping/ductwork. Students learn how to measure temperature, flow rate and pressure in thermal-fluid systems using classical and modern instrumentation. Students are also taught how to work as a team to design experimental procedures and effectively report the results of their experiments.
Solid Mechanics Lab
In the Solid Mechanics Lab, experiments are conducted on fundamental principles of solid mechanics, materials and dynamics. A range of topics are covered including testing of materials for tensile, compression, bending and torsional loads, vibrations and material microstructure. Students perform mechanical testing on a variety of structural elements and machine components following appropriate codes and standards. As a result, they gain understanding of different failure modes of the materials under different mechanical loading conditions.
The lab has numerical components where software tools are used to numerically predict stress/strains in simple structures and components using finite element analysis. Students are also taught how to work as a team to design experimental procedures and effectively report the results of their experiments.
A substantial component to the EGRM 215: Engineering Visualization and Computation course is the application of engineering software for problem solving. This course is structured to enhance students’ knowledge base in the execution of spreadsheet calculations, mastery of professional approaches to the graphical representation of data, basic and more complex computer programming using Matlab, 3-D product and computer-aided design using SolidWorks, and 2-D drawings, tolerancing, and dimensioning in consideration of manufacturing processes.
The course learning objectives are directly supported through hands-on educational experiences and exercises using the software in a general purpose computer classroom in East Hall, Room E1239. This classroom has 36 Intel Core 2 Duo processor machines with identical software, consisting of Windows XP Professional and all course-related applications.
The Mechatronics Lab at VCU is designed to teach senior mechanical engineering students to build basic analog and digital circuits; develop an understanding for use of analog to digital and digital to analog conversion, actuators (servo and stepper motors) and sensors. Finally, the students learn to program a microcontroller and interface it with various actuator and sensor elements to build a working robot.
This lab is equipped with several computers with PCI-Data acquisition cards, power supplies, signal generators, digital oscilloscopes, digital multimeters, analog and digital circuit components, ICs, DC motors, stepper motors, servomotors and microcontroller platforms.
Students in the ENGR 427 Robotics course use this lab to complete team projects using Adept Cobra 600 robots. These projects typically involve programming one of the robots to draw a cartoon character, logo or familiar object.
Visible Reactor Lab
VCU’s visible reactor is a small (3 kW) thermal reactor patterned after a full-scale pressurized water reactor (PWR). The various components of the reactor are transparent, which allow students to visualize the thermal hydraulics and heat transfer phenomenologies taking place in the system. The visible reactor is equipped with a human-machine interface that allows operators to control and regulate the actuation of the various components and to monitor pressure, temperature and flow throughout the system.
The visible reactor has been designed and built by VCU students studying mechanical, nuclear and electrical engineering under the direction of VCU’s faculty, and new features are being added by the students every semester. VCU’s visible reactor is also routinely used as an instructional tool for various nuclear engineering courses, as it enables the study of energy generation and heat transfer, pressure control in a two-phase system, reactor core subcooling and operation of steam generators, as well as the use of measurement instrumentation.
Nuclear Simulator Lab
VCU’s nuclear simulator consists of an internally-developed software model for a pressurized water reactor (PWR), loaded onto a platform of three computers and twelve 22″ monitors. The main workstation controls the instructor functions and the other two are for the primary and secondary sides. The monitors are arranged similarly to a nuclear control room simulator, displaying instrumentation readouts and annunciators.
The VCU nuclear simulator allows operator control of the same major components as a control room operator: control rods and boration/dilution; pressurizer heaters, sprays and relief valves, on the primary system; and steam demand valves, steam generator level control and feedwater pumps on the secondary side, among other components. The available controls deliberately replicate those that are available to an actual nuclear plant operator, as do the indications, both in function and in appearance. The indicators respond in real time. In addition, the mathematical models programmed into the simulator logic are based upon first principles and benchmarked against plant data as much as possible.
The VCU nuclear simulator has been designed and built entirely by VCU students under the direction of VCU’s faculty, and new capabilities are added to the simulator by the students every semester. VCU’s nuclear simulator is also routinely used as an instructional tool for various nuclear engineering courses.
Radiation Measurement Lab
The Radiation Measurement Lab maintains instruments for the detection and measurement of alpha, beta and gamma radiation, thus providing VCU’s nuclear engineering students with a strong background in the practical application of the theory and practice of radiation interactions, detection and measurement. The lab includes Geiger-Mueller survey detectors, gas counters capable of operating in the ionization, proportional, and GM regimes, and NaI(Tl) scintillation spectrometers. The lab is used both in the educational and research programs.