Engineering Energy Efficiency

Engineering EnergyThis project investigates the educational value of computational models and simulations within the design process. Students design and build an energy-efficient scale-model house with the aid of simulations and probeware.

This project will investigate the educational value of scientific simulations for learning engineering through engaging high school students to design and build an energy-efficient scale model house with the aid of computer simulations and probeware measurement.

In partnership with the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University, the Boston Museum of Science, Purdue University, and Hofstra University, this project will test the assertion that simulations and hands-on projects are mutually beneficial. To scaffold the design activities and facilitate the research, we are developing four instructional units that integrate science concepts, engineering principles, simulations, and hands-on projects.

This project will bring highly innovative educational tools and curricula to engineering classrooms:

We are developing an education-oriented, student-friendly simulation tools called Energy2D™ and Energy3D™, which will be capable of modeling the engineering problems students will encounter in this project. Built upon fundamental physical principles such as the heat equation and the Navier-Stokes equation, these tools bring breathtaking interactive simulations and visualizations of energy and matter flow to students that have only been accessible to engineers before.

We are introducing thermography systematically to enable scientific discovery and problem solving in engineering education. Based on the Extech i5 thermal camera, we are developing experiments and curriculum materials that provide unprecedented opportunities for students to visualize energy flow in thermal systems. The infrared images taken from a thermal camera compare favorably with the visualizations from advanced simulations. For students who have access to these currently costly thermal cameras, thermography and simulation provide an extremely powerful connection between theory and practice. For those who do not have access to thermal cameras, simulation software provide a cost-effective alternative to thermal cameras that can enhance their learning.

Principal Investigator

Charles Xie

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Vertical Temperature Gradients

Vertical Temperature Gradients

Explore the vertical temperature variations in a house due to natural convection.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0918449. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The overarching goal of this project is to investigate the educational value of scientific simulations for learning engineering through engaging high school students to do simulation-guided, hands-on design activities.

We will conduct a controlled study with approximately 600 students using the materials. The control group will use only a hands-on kit and the experimental group will use the complete set of engineering tools--a hands-on kit plus simulations--will be conducted. We will collect data extensively through various research instruments.

This study will investigate the following two questions:

  1. Can simulations help students learn science more deeply?
  2. Can simulations enhance their engineering skills?

The content area of this study is energy and power in thermal systems. Massachusetts standards require students be able to

  • Differentiate among conduction, convection, and radiation
  • Give examples of how conduction, convection, and radiation are considered in choosing materials for buildings and designing a heating system
  • Explain how environmental factors such as wind, solar angle, and temperature affect design
  • Identify and explain alternatives to nonrenewable energy

Our study will focus on finding if there is any evidence that shows deeper student understanding around these core concepts and skills resulting from learning and designing with simulations.

A Solar House Project

Combine science and engineering and give your students hands-on experience with energy transfer concepts and their practical application to real buildings. What is the effect of insulation? How is heat lost through windows? How can a house capture the sun's heat?

Build a model house from cardboard and acetate (or other readily available materials). Use a light bulb heater and temperature sensor to measure heat loss. Then make modifications to improve thermal performance.

Choose instructions for a month-long engineering and science project, or select self-contained sections for activities of shorter duration. Try one of these sequences

A) Do it all! (Chapters 1-5)

B) The science of heat transfer (Chapter 2)

  1. Hands-on activities only
  2. Simulation activities only
  3. A mix of the two

C) Build a standard model house (Chapter 1)

D) Design your own model house (Chapters 3 and 4)

There are two versions for designing your model house:

  1. Traditional pencil-and-paper sketches.
  2. Energy3D, a free custom CAD program from which the building pieces can be printed for ready assembly.

There are two versions of the stand-alone experiments that explore heat transfer:

  1. "Hands-on" physical experiments using sensors and inexpensive everyday materials.
  2. "Simulation" experiments using Energy2D, a free application that models heat flow.

Table of Contents (Downloadable PDFs)

Download the Table of Contents

Energy2DModels all three mechanisms of heat transfer—conduction, convection and radiation.
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Energy3DAn easy-to-use 3D user interface for students to design and study model green buildings.
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energy.concord.orgAdditional ideas, tools and resources are available at
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Lead Author: Edmund Hazzard

Contributors: Stephen Bannasch, Luisa Chiesa, Jonah Elgart, Cynthia McIntyre, Saeid Nourian, Amy Pallant, Charles Xie



To begin using Energy3D and Energy2D software, download the installers.

 Energy3D Installer 

Energy2D Launcher (Windows and Linux)

Energy2D Launcher (Mac)

The Java Runtime Environment version 5 (sometimes referred to
as 1.5) or later with Java Webstart is required to run this software.
You can download it at

For more information, visit our beta Energy Science & Technology website

Energy3D: Design, print, cut, assemble, and test

Energy3D presents an easy-to-use 3D user interface for constructing buildings in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) way. Students can build a single family house, a building complex, and even a villiage.Energy3D's Blueprint Wizard allows students to "print out" a design and assemble a scale model. Energy3D is written in Java and runs on Windows and Mac OS X. The following pictures show ten designs, their scale models, and their thermal signature under an IR camera. Learn more »

Energy 3D?Energy 3D?Energy 3D

Energy2D: Interactive heat transfer simulations

Version 0.2 is now available. This version has a basic user interface that allows you to
create your own simulations and deploy them on the Web. It also has over 30 models
in the library for you to use. Learn more »

Energy 2D Energy 2D

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