Mechanical engineering professor receives award for innovation in education

Closeup of Prashanta Dutta.
Prashanta Dutta

Prashanta Dutta, professor in Washington State University’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, received the 2024 Donald N. Zwiep Innovation in Education Award for his work in designing, developing, and disseminating desktop learning modules.

The award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) recognizes WSU’s leadership in developing and sharing unique portable modules that provide students with an experiential understanding of fundamental engineering phenomena. The desktop learning modules let students do hands-on engineering experiments in fluid mechanics and heat transfer. They also provide an affordable learning platform for students to learn about equipment used in large-scale industrial processes.

“We can’t really have industrial facilities here to give students practical experience,” said Dutta, who has been involved in the module project since 2007. “We made a smaller version of industrial scale equipment and then we do experiments on it, and they show the same behavior.”

The modules are made of clear plastic and allow students to observe the flow patterns of water through fluid chambers and heat exchangers to understand difficult engineering concepts. Working with those desktop learning modules in teams of three or four, the students can learn the working principles of physical systems and can challenge common misconceptions.

The modules were first used in WSU chemical and mechanical engineering courses in the early 2010s, including in fluid mechanics and heat transfer classes. Funded by a series of National Science Foundation grants, the researchers have since brought the modules to engineering courses at more than 50 universities around the U.S. The hands-on devices can be directly used in the classroom, unlike some other expensive devices on the market that need a functioning laboratory.

Dutta helped develop the nationwide network for the project. The interdisciplinary WSU research team also includes professors Bernard Van Wie and David Thiessen in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering as well as Olusola Adesope, professor of educational psychology.

Dutta said he enjoys working with desktop learning modules because oftentimes, students struggle with certain concepts, but having a miniature version helps them see and feel what is actually going on.

“This nationwide dissemination of desktop learning modules has allowed students in mechanical engineering to get hands-on experience,” he said. “Every time we give these to students, they are very enthusiastic about working on them.”

The award was presented on March 20 at the ASME International Mechanical Engineering Education Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Next Story

Recent News

Student receives NASA graduate fellowship

Ian Wells, a mechanical and materials engineering graduate student, has won a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship.

Summer schedule for WSU Insider

Look for news highlights in the daily push email most days Monday through Thursday through late August, with Friday emails resuming around the start of the fall semester.