Graphical calculator for an ME major in the US?

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  • #1
yecko
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I am an Mechanical Engineering student, coming to US next semester as a year 3 exchange student.

Is a graphical calculator is necessary to survive as a mechanical engineering student in US?

I have no previous experience in graphical calculator (we are only allowed to use scientific calculator like casio fx-50FH or fx-3650P in Hong Kong). Is there any calculator model recommendation for mechanical engineering student that is comprehensive, user-friendly and allowed in exams?

Course I am going to take: Heat transfer, control principle, mechanism of machinery

Should I get one like Casio FX115ES,TI-36X Pro, Ti-84 Plus, Ti-89 Titanium or the Ti-Nspire CX CAS?

Thanks in advance for any help.
 

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  • #2
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Many ME students use Matlab for their coursework and so I think a computer that can run it would be more important than a graphing calculator.
 
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  • #3
jrmichler
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I have three degrees, all in mechanical engineering. I have taught mechanical engineering. I have always used the simplest, cheapest scientific calculator I could find. I tried a couple high end HP scientific calculators, and found that I was better off with a simple scientific calculator. I have tested graphics calculators, and have never seen a situation where the graphics feature was of any use at all. The calculator on my desk right now is a Casio fx-260 solar scienfific. I bought it six years ago to replace a similar calculator that died.

When time is important, such as during an exam, a simple calculator that you know well is better than a complex calculator where you have to search for the correct key.

And @jedishrfu is right about using Matlab.
 
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  • #4
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If you want to get a taste of Matlab, there are several free clones. My favorite is Freemat which provides the core matlab functions and is quite useful in handling moderate amounts of data and generating simple plots.

You can find Freemat manual here:

http://freemat.sourceforge.net/FreeMat-4.0.pdf

and a freemat download here:

http://freemat.sourceforge.net/download.html

In addition, there's a few user generated books:

(1) 200+ page primer:

http://stuffle.website/references/FreematPrimerV4e1-1.pdf

(2) 9 page brief tutorial:

http://www.dankalman.net/AUhome/classes/classesS16/linalg/freemattutorial.pdf
 
  • #5
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When time is important, such as during an exam, a simple calculator that you know well is better than a complex calculator where you have to search for the correct key.
and what's even better is a second simple working calculator or some working batteries because you know they're going to fail at that critical moment especially since you're training to be an ME and will have nightmares about this kind of scenario.

PS: this happened to me in grad school and a fellow student was kind enough to give me his spare 4 function calculator which was barely workable but hey it was a calculator. (I should have brought my sliderule they never fail or well almost never.)
 
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  • #6
Mech_Engineer
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Generally speaking I'd say the above feedback is accurate, anything more than a regular scientific calculator is not required for completing an engineering degree (especially if you have access to math software like Matlab or Mathematica). That being said, advanced calculators can be very useful tools in certain situations, but it can be a bit hit or miss which classes will allow programmable calculators, scientific calculators, or none at all. I'd recommend starting school with a scientific calculator for a start, and then progressing as needed in your course work.

The two I used in engineering school (and continue to use 12 years out of school) are my trusty TI-89 and a Casio fx-115es. Each of these has many features I continue to find useful:
  • Casio fx-115es: A very solid scientific calculator I purchased because it was one of only a few models allowed during the Fundamentals of Engineering exam at the time I took it, but I have grown to appreciate its versatility. Some of its nice features are:
    • Natural equation notation
    • Numerical integrals and derivatives
    • Matrix and vector math
    • Units conversion
    • Statistical functions
  • TI-89: Everyone knows about this calculator and I've had one since High School. There are many features available on calculators of this caliber beyond "graphing" that would be useful for any engineering student:
    • Symbolic algebraic manipulation, including calculus and differential equations, and linear algebra. You won't be allowed to use these functions in the classes you learn them in, but later on in applied engineering courses it can be helpful to have the functions available.
    • Units-aware calculations and reporting, and full units conversion. Engineers always find themselves working in several different unit conventions, and it's helpful to be able to convert on the fly using a calculator. It's also nice to be able to use the calculator to check final units in a calculation, for example it will solve for the correct units in the kinetic energy equation, e.g. KE = (1/2)(1 kg)*(1 m/s)^2 = 0.5 J
    • Vector math, matrix manipulation, and statistics calculations are all available as needed, assuming you know how to use them
Good luck in your exchange student studies!
 
  • #7
yecko
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Generally speaking I'd say the above feedback is accurate, anything more than a regular scientific calculator is not required for completing an engineering degree (especially if you have access to math software like Matlab or Mathematica). That being said, advanced calculators can be very useful tools in certain situations, but it can be a bit hit or miss which classes will allow programmable calculators, scientific calculators, or none at all. I'd recommend starting school with a scientific calculator for a start, and then progressing as needed in your course work.

The two I used in engineering school (and continue to use 12 years out of school) are my trusty TI-89 and a Casio fx-115es. Each of these has many features I continue to find useful:
  • Casio fx-115es: A very solid scientific calculator I purchased because it was one of only a few models allowed during the Fundamentals of Engineering exam at the time I took it, but I have grown to appreciate its versatility. Some of its nice features are:
    • Natural equation notation
    • Numerical integrals and derivatives
    • Matrix and vector math
    • Units conversion
    • Statistical functions
  • TI-89: Everyone knows about this calculator and I've had one since High School. There are many features available on calculators of this caliber beyond "graphing" that would be useful for any engineering student:
    • Symbolic algebraic manipulation, including calculus and differential equations, and linear algebra. You won't be allowed to use these functions in the classes you learn them in, but later on in applied engineering courses it can be helpful to have the functions available.
    • Units-aware calculations and reporting, and full units conversion. Engineers always find themselves working in several different unit conventions, and it's helpful to be able to convert on the fly using a calculator. It's also nice to be able to use the calculator to check final units in a calculation, for example it will solve for the correct units in the kinetic energy equation, e.g. KE = (1/2)(1 kg)*(1 m/s)^2 = 0.5 J
    • Vector math, matrix manipulation, and statistics calculations are all available as needed, assuming you know how to use them
Good luck in your exchange student studies!
As I am not going to have calculus class in the US, I dont think I will be tested on my differentiation skills and integration skills.
However, my current calculators (fx-50FH and fx-3650p) allow me to have non-algebraic programmes, statistical calculation and numerical integration and differentiation only, and without other functions that you mentioned.
I am thinking of if CAS would be of use to me, and I have literally no experience in doing problems with matrics or imperial units.
(Indeed we are allowed to use any kind of calculator in upperclass in Hong Kong, yet most local student would just rather stick with the one we used in high school, while most international student would use a graphical calculator, which doubted me the reason why)
A Ti-89 or Nspire are indeed quite expensive to me (and i am sure it is time-consuming for me to learn how to use them), yet I am considering if they worth me to buy.
 
  • #8
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It would be more cost effective to get the Schaums Mathematical Formulas and Tables book over getting a calculator with CAS capabilities. The book has many formulas useful to an engineer or physicist.
 
  • #9
Mech_Engineer
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I am thinking of if CAS would be of use to me, and I have literally no experience in doing problems with matrics or imperial units. (Indeed we are allowed to use any kind of calculator in upperclass in Hong Kong, yet most local student would just rather stick with the one we used in high school, while most international student would use a graphical calculator, which doubted me the reason why)
I recommend using the calculators you're familiar with for now, and possibly getting a units conversion handbook if necessary later on. You won't need to buy anything right away, so no need to worry about something you don't have. Most engineering classes in the US are taught with SI units and there will be a small amount of Imperial sprinkled in depending on context (for example from what I remember my Thermodynamics class was all SI, but by mechanics of materials class was 50/50 SI and Imperial), so in the case you're not familiar with an imperial unit you can convert to SI and them move on with the calculation.
 

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