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This content is taken from the University of Liverpool's online course, Energy: Thermodynamics in Everyday Life. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds I sell here - what all the world desires to have - power. This is a quote from Matthew Boulton who was the Birmingham business partner, of the Scottish engineer, James Watt. You can find this quote with Boulton and Watt on the back of the £50 British bank note. Power is energy flow per second. In this course we’re going to explore the laws of thermodynamics that govern how energy flows. How they can transform it. And why we always need some. My name Eann Patterson. I teach engineering at the University of Liverpool. Together in this five week course we’re going to find out about how thermodynamics is used in the design of power stations, refrigerators, and heat pumps. Everybody needs energy.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds Life and society are sustained by energy. So we’re going to look at everyday examples of energy transformations. There are four laws of thermodynamics. Numbered from zero through to three. The zeroth law was recognised after the first law, but given the number zero because it was believed to be the most fundamental of the four laws. This week we’ll start with the conservation of energy before looking at the zeroth law. And how it leads to the definition of temperature scales. There’s a simple lab exercise for you to do to explore these ideas. Next week we’ll explore how engineers define thermodynamic systems to allow them to analyse and predict energy transformations. I’ll introduce the concepts of internal energy and enthalpy.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds And we’ll study simple machines. There will be a lab class on the first law of thermodynamics for you to do at home with a kettle like this one. In week three we’ll move on to energy flows associated with heat and fluid movement. I’ll use a domestic heating system and jet power as examples. And I’ll launch a challenge for you on perpetual motion machines. In week four I’ll introduce the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. We’ll apply these ideas to assessing the efficiency of power stations and refrigerators. In the last week we’ll investigate what’s meant by available energy. And I’ll introduced the third law of thermodynamics.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds Touching on super conductivity and recent research that suggests there’s a world beyond absolute zero. We’ll also see how you arose to my challenge on perpetual motion machines.

Course introduction

A very warm welcome to our course, ‘Energy: Thermodynamics in Everyday Life.’

Each week is structured around a series of short videos that will introduce new ideas. The videos are supported by articles that will explore and explain the concepts in more detail. And there will be example classes in which we will show you how the concepts are used in engineering analysis. We will provide you with some do-it-at-home lab classes so you can experience some of the ideas and concepts. You will be able to share your results with other learners on the course. To support you, we will keep an eye on on-line discussions on how the laws of thermodynamics impact our everyday life. Although we won’t be able to respond to every question, we’ll endeavour to reply to the most popular queries. If you agree with another learner’s question or comment, why not ‘Like’ it, or ‘Follow’ fellow learners

Here is the chance to find out a little more about the team that will be guiding you through this course. It might be a good idea to ‘follow’ them so you can find their comments more easily in the forthcoming discussions.

Lead Educator

I am Eann Patterson Lead Educator and responsible for the course content. I am an engineering professor at the University of Liverpool with thirty years experience of teaching engineering science. Since 2011 I have held the A.A. Griffith Chair of Structural Materials and Mechanics in the School of Engineering in Liverpool and I am also the recipient of a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. I started my university career at the University of Sheffield as an undergraduate eventually becoming a Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In 2004 I moved to the USA with my wife and four children and became the Chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University.

While at MSU I got involved in the ‘DEEP project’ on transforming the engineering curriculum in collaboration with a consortium of US universities lead by Johns Hopkins University and funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Out of that project came the concept of ‘Real Life Examples’ for teaching engineering in a context that was familiar to all students which I hope to do on this course. I also edited a series of booklets of Real Life Examples in Fluid Mechanics, Dynamics, Solid Mechanics and Thermodynamics. These examples are now available through my blog RealizeEngineering. I frequently teach at workshops for my academic colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic on how to engage students using everyday or real life examples.

This is not my first venture in front of the camera - as part of the NSF project ‘ENGAGE I made a series of videos about using everyday examples in the classroom to engage students and explain basic principles of engineering science. This online course is heavily based on the first year undergraduate course in Thermodynamics that I have been teaching in Liverpool since I arrived in 2011. The course has been received enthusiastically by Liverpool engineering students so I hope you will also enjoy it and find it stimulating, interesting and useful.


Phil Walker is your host. He works as a Learning Technologist’s at the University’s eLearning Unit and is here assisting Eann with the second run of this course. The host can help assist you if you have any technical problems. Please be aware, it can take time to respond to queries, but we will do our best to get back to you.

Now you know about us, it’s time to introduce yourself to everyone in the comments towards the bottom of the page!

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This video is from the free online course:

Energy: Thermodynamics in Everyday Life

University of Liverpool