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The Partial Derivative Machine Documents

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The Partial Derivative Machine 

written by Grant Sherer, Mary Bridget Kustusch, Corinne A. Manogue, and David J. Roundy

Research has shown that students struggle to understand the use of partial derivatives in thermodynamics. We have designed an apparatus, which we have called a Partial Derivative Machine, that serves as a mechanical analogue of a thermodynamic system. Using this device, students have a tangible way to wrestle with issues related to partial derivatives and thermodynamics, such as which variables are held fixed, how many variables are independent, and how energy can be added to a system. In this paper, we present a description of the apparatus, an introduction to the associated activities, and an overview of how this apparatus can be connected to thermodynamic systems.

Published February 1, 2014
Last Modified January 31, 2014

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