Brian Woo-Shem

Mechanical engineer, tech wizard, cartoonist, writer, creator of things.

Heat Transfer Lab CPU Cooling Competition

“The CPU cooling lab was the most rewarding, interesting, and enjoyable lab that I have had at [Santa Clara University]. It did a very good job conveying the fundamentals of heat transfer while being very enjoyable.”

Heat Transfer Student, Spring 2023

After my wildly successful Thermoelectric PID Control Competition, I was asked to design a new laboratory centered around a hands-on competition for the Heat Transfer course at Santa Clara University, School of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering˺. From talking to current students and from my own experience, I realized the existing labs lacked a hands-on experience with the practical side of heat transfer: understanding how adding thermal components such as fans, different heat sinks, and thermal contact impact performance of systems. Inspired by looking in old desktop computers and by numerous job postings for “Thermal Mechanical Engineer” or similar roles at consumer electronics companies, I sought to recreate the challenges faced by engineers in the field. In short, I gave students this challenge:

Given lots of loose parts – bolts, rivets, and miscellaneous metal, thermal contact pads, aluminum foil, and simple DC fans, build the best cooling system from scratch. Designs are judged by a combination of performance and weight.

Despite running this lab just after midterms, students were super engaged and worked in teams to create and test many designs.

Feedback from students was highly positive. In the course survey, students rated the lab at 4.5 out of 5 stars.

“The competition was the most interesting & rewarding lab because it challenged us to think creatively in a design context and allowed us to experiment with different approaches based on our knowledge from the lecture.”

Heat Transfer Student, Spring 2023

“I really enjoyed the CPU cooling lab because it helped me think outside of the box and use my resources to apply the knowledge we have been learning in class. It was rewarding to see how our efforts worked.”

Heat Transfer Student, Spring 2023

The lab curriculum I developed belongs to the Santa Clara University Department of Mechanical Engineering˺. If you’re a current student – it’s cool you found this and you’re free to cite this if you want. However, consistent with my teaching philosophy, there are no useful answers here for the lab 😉

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