Mass and Heat Flow

(The FASEB Journal. 1998; 12(4):A59)

A Simulation-Based Computer Tutorial Focused on Applications of a General Model of Mass and Heat Flow.

H.I. Modell and T.W. Modell
National Resource for Computers in Life Science Education, Seattle, WA 98115.

Students generally approach topics in physiology as a series of unrelated phenomena that share few underlying principles. In many students’ view, the Fick equation for cardiac output is fundamentally different from a renal clearance equation. If, however, students recognize that these apparently different situations can be viewed as examples of the same general conceptual model (e.g., mass balance), they may gain a more unified understanding of physiological systems. As a first step to examining this premise, we have developed a simulation-based computer tutorial dealing with mass and heat flow. The program is designed to resemble an instructor-student dialog in which the instructor helps the student develop a pictorial model of the relationships among upstream pressure, downstream pressure, resistance, and flow in a piece of garden hose. During this process, the student is required to predict the outcome of a number of experiments, run the experiments, and discuss the explanations for their results. Using familiar, non-physiology situations, the student then extends this simple “Ohm’s Law” model to obtain a general model that applies to any situation in which an energy gradient leads to mass or heat flow. The remainder of the program helps the student explore how the model can be applied to a variety of topics (e.g., diffusion, fluid flow, gas flow, ion flow, heat flow) drawn from cell, cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, G-I, and neurophysiology. (Funded in part by NSF Grant No. DUE-9652782.)

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