Any thermodynamics class worth its salt will include a lecture on the second law of thermodynamics. But what about the man behind the second law, Nicholas Carnot? Few may know that this son of a prominent French politician actually spent much of his life in the military before being interned in an asylum and dying of cholera at the age of 36.
But that is exactly the kind of fascinating backstory that Dr. Daniel Armentrout hopes to impart to the students in his Honors Thermodynamics Colloquium at UAH. Offered by the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the course runs concurrently with – and builds upon – the traditional Thermodynamics lecture.
"The more you learn about the people who made monumental contributions to science, the more you are confronted with their humanity and recognize that discovery is obtainable," says Dr. Armentrout. "So all of the students in the colloquium get exposure to the historical and personal context that led to significant discoveries in thermodynamics."
This semester, those students are Victoria Cain, Ryan Gott, Moriah Morehouse, and Kareem Omar. All are undergraduates in UAH's Honors College, and all say that the colloquium allows them to explore thermodynamics in a more meaningful way than the course's lecture-style counterpart.
"We learn about what people in the past did with significantly less technology, which gives me the confidence that I will be able to solve problems and make new discoveries," says Gott. Adds Omar, "this is what university is all about – a professor knowledgeable about a topic entertaining discussion with students who have the same interests."