Using Mathematica to Teach Process Units: A Distillation Case Study


  • Maria G. Rasteiro University of Coimbra
  • Fernando P. Bernardo University of Coimbra
  • Pedro M. Saraiva University of Coimbra


The question addressed here is how to integrate computational tools, namely interactive general-purpose platforms, in the teaching of process units. Mathematica has been selected as a complementary tool to teach distillation processes, with the main objective of leading students to achieve a better understanding of the physical phenomena involved and thereafter design the corresponding equipment. This strategy has mutual benefits, allowing good understanding of the process units studied and, simultaneously, providing a perceptive way of learning how to use a computational platform to solve engineering problems. It is claimed that this methodology represents an improvement on the more traditional strategy of teaching process units and computational tools as separate courses. 

Author Biographies

Maria G. Rasteiro, University of Coimbra

Maria G. Rasteiro is Associate Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Coimbra University She received a PhD in Chemical Engineering/ Unit Operations in 1988. Her research interests are in the fields of process units. particle technology, and multiphase processes as well as in improving teaching and learning in engineering education. She is a member of ASEE and of the Working Party on Particle Characterization from EFCE.

Fernando P. Bernardo, University of Coimbra

Fernando P. Bernardo is a Teaching Assistant at the University of Coimbra and is currently preparing his PhD in the area of Chemical Product and Process Design. He has collaborated in courses on applied computation and numerical methods as well as transfer phenomena and process units.

Pedro M. Saraiva, University of Coimbra

Pedro M. Saraiva is Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. University of Coimbra. He received his PhD in 1993 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology His research interests are in the areas of process systems engineering. applied statistics. and quality management.