Last month, AU unveiled its new state-of-the-art electrical engineering lab. It’s the latest in a series of specialized centers the school has introduced this semester, from a digital media lab to a new-and-improved nursing simulation lab.
The electrical engineering lab has glass whiteboards, a brand new projection system and nine benches for a total of 18 students. Each of those benches is complete with a triple output power supply, multimeter and oscilloscope/waveform generator. Which, for those who aren’t engineers-in-training, means students have the equipment to conduct a bunch of different electrical tests and experiments.
Dr. Benjamin McPheron, associate professor of electrical engineering and chair of the department of physical sciences and engineering, said the lab has been a long time coming, and its purpose is threefold.
Firstly, the lab was created to give students important hands-on experience, and it was designed with the growth of the engineering major in mind—AU is estimated to welcome between 40 and 50 engineering students in the fall.
“One of the things that’s really important to us is having a good student-to-faculty ratio when it comes to doing labs because we’re trying to get the students hands-on experiences,” said McPheron. “Having an extra lab allows us to do that a little bit more efficiently.”
Secondly, the lab will improve the experience of students in classes such as Physics II. Lastly, McPheron said the lab will give an opportunity for more high school field trips—and ultimately attract more students.
“We will host STEM field trips where we’ll bring in high school students from local high schools and we’ll give them a couple of short experiences in our labs using our equipment,” he said. “Because we have so many students in so many classes, our labs tend to get very full and so this gives us another space to do that.”
McPheron said the process of building the lab—from conceptualization to finish—was a group effort that involved many former and current faculty members, including Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Dr. Willis Troy and Assistant Professor of Physics Professor Tyler Williamson. The lab was made possible in part by a large donation from trustee and alumnus Dr. Lloyd Schnuck as a part of AU’s Called to Soar focused fundraising initiative.
“It certainly helps as students come in that they can see that we’re committed to doing engineering well and giving access,” said McPheron. “One of the things that we tell students, and we stand by it, is that at AU you’ll have an opportunity to learn how to use equipment and use it essentially from day one, whereas at large universities, you may get very limited access to the equipment.”
In their first semester at AU, engineering students can expect to already be in the lab, learning the ins and outs of the equipment. McPheron said allowing students to get this experience early on makes them better equipped for internships throughout their college career.
But it’s not just professors excited about the new lab—engineering students are thrilled to have the state-of-the-art equipment at their fingertips.
“It’s pristine. They’ve got new equipment for everything to replace the other lab,” said junior electrical engineering major Cam May. “There’s a lot of new technology that will be very helpful. I haven’t really gotten to use it that much, but I’m hoping to next semester.”
May said the higher quality equipment is going to make it easier to get things done and obtain clearer results. Plus, he said, now the school has two electrical labs, which means more versatility for everyone in the major.
“Lower level engineering courses can take place at the same time as higher level engineering courses,” said May. “In the past, we’ve had the one electrical lab dedicated to everyone. And now this one is just another space that if the other one’s being used, you can come in here and do what you need to do in your own space and not disrupt the other class.”
May said the lab is about more than just learning for an exam—it’s practicing and learning how to use equipment students will use throughout the rest of their electrical engineering careers.
“It depends on what discipline you go into, but on some level, this happens pretty much all throughout electrical engineering—you have an input, you want to know what the output is, how to prevent loss, all that kind of jazz,” said May, “and this helps you absorb it on a lower level.”
As May sat in the lab looking around at the modern tools now at his disposal, he explained each piece of equipment in layman’s terms. The multimeter, May said, is an instrument that can measure multiple electrical properties, such as voltage, current and resistance.
The power supply, as the name suggests, supplies power. But it also allows the user to change the amount of power used based on how much power is needed. The next piece of equipment May pointed out was something new.
“In the other lab we had an oscilloscope and a waveform generator, but this does both,” said May. “There are different ports. One of them sends out a signal and then you put that signal through a circuit. And then on the other end, you put the oscilloscope on and it shows what kind of interaction in terms of electricity is happening within the circuit. So if you want it to amplify a voltage, you put in a wave, put it through your system, it amplifies it and it should be bigger than what you expect.”
May said he’s known for a while he’s wanted to pursue a career in engineering. After noting his love for Rubik’s cubes and similar puzzles, May’s mother suggested he take some engineering courses in high school. And after that, May was sold—he knew he wanted to be an engineer.
May started at AU in 2019 as a computer engineering major, but made the switch to electrical engineering his sophomore year when he decided software-based engineering wasn’t for him—he was more interested in hardware and hands-on engineering.
May, along with the other engineering majors, look forward to using the new electrical engineering lab in the future.