April 2015 Newsletter

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Greetings from West Lafayette

Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering has been a leader in innovation for over 125 years. From consumer goods such as the electric television to medical devices such as MRI machines, several of the technologies we rely on today got their start with our students and faculty.Head of ECE Ragu Balakrishnan

We see this spirit of innovation alive and well today in our undergraduate students. In our senior design courses, students are inspired to bring their innovations to market, and are finding the tools to make these aspirations a reality.

ECE students are being recognized for their innovative projects, from a team who won a grant to build a hybrid renewable energy system in a village in Cameroon to an undergraduate who turned a common campus problem into a startup company. A student team also earned a repeat victory at the national Rube Goldberg competition for their intentionally complicated approach to shining shoes.

We continue to be a leader in innovative engineering education. ECE professor Dimitrios Peroulis is taking a look at experimental teaching styles, and shares insights learned from their application.

As always, we welcome your feedback and appreciate your continued interest in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue.


V. Ragu Balakrishnan
Michael and Katherine Birck Head
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

ECE encourages entrepreneurial spirit in undergrad classes

Undergraduate electrical and computer engineering students are learning to think like entrepreneurs as a part of their senior design courses.

In today’s competitive environment, it is not enough graduate with a purely technical background; engineers also need to have a solid understanding of business. Inspired by the success of tech-leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, more and more students are eager to prove themselves in the startup world.

But creating a successful business is about more than having a great idea, which is where ECE’s senior design curriculum comes in. The class encourages students to think about their project as if they were taking it to market. Teams must conduct a patent search for similar products. They are required to analyze the reliability, safety, and environmental impact of their design. They must consider market pressures and production costs.

Many ECE senior design students are interested in commercializing their ideas, and thanks to a recent change in the university’s intellectual property policy, these students have ownership rights to their innovations. Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization helps students with patent filing and intellectual property protection.

Purdue innovators who’d like to bring their designs to market will find plenty of support around campus. The Anvil offers co-working space where students can create and collaborate as well as access to a network of advisors. Another Purdue resource, the Foundry, provides guidance on business plans, prototype development, funding, grant writing, regulatory requirements, mentoring and other entrepreneurial activities.

Students who want to take their interest in entrepreneurship a step further can also enroll in the Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, which provides undergraduate students the knowledge and tools required to assess new venture opportunities. Courses are designed to develop the leadership and communications skills necessary to advocate for these enterprises, thus making entrepreneurship an accessible career choice for students, now or in the future.

ECE student wins Ford grant to further work on a hybrid renewable energy system

A team of Purdue University students, including electrical engineering student Hamzah Alahmadi, are working on a hybrid renewable power system for use in remote communities in need of electricity has been awarded a 2014 Ford College Community Challenge (Ford C3) grant.

The Purdue Micro-Hydropower (MHP) team will receive $25,000 to support its continuing effort in the village of Bangang, Cameroon.

The team, working in collaboration with Purdue's Global Engineering Program and the African Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, already has helped establish and upgrade a locally sourced and fabricated micro-hydropower facility to generate electricity in Bangang.

However, the plant alone cannot meet the village's electricity demand during the dry season. Now the MHP team is working on a hybrid, renewable energy system that, combined with the hydropower plant, will provide reliable electricity throughout the year.

Objectives of the ongoing project are to design the hybrid renewable energy system; locally fabricate, implement and evaluate the system; and then create an open-source online and physical database to support other rural communities interested in replicating the system.

Ford C3 recognizes colleges and universities for utilizing school resources and student participation to address an urgent community need under the theme: Building Sustainable Communities. Winners are required to present proposals for sustainable projects with significant student input, involvement and leadership. Water conservation, renewable energy, urban gardening, recycling and transportation are among the proposals submitted.

Purdue dominates Rube Goldberg contest, repeats as national champs

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team, including ECE students Benjamin Hilker and Garret McMindes, retained its Rube Goldberg Machine Contest national championship on March 28 by defeating teams from around the nation in building a complicated, whimsical device to accomplish a simple everyday task.

The PSPE machine used 72 steps recounting a typical day in the life of the cartoonist to accomplish this year's assigned task, erase a chalkboard.

Team president Jordan Vallejo said she was worried that the machine would not finish in the top three after failing to run perfectly on either of its two runs. Some components broke the night before leaving for Columbus, Ohio, for the event. The team stayed up late making repairs.

"We pushed the boundaries on the number of steps and tried to do things that have never been done before," Vallejo said. "In a competition like this, as an engineer you learn the difference between ideal situations and real-world situations."

The PSPE team has won four national championships in the past 10 years and holds a Guinness world record that is unbreakable under new rules meant to curb the 300-step machines PSPE previously created. Under new rules encouraging humor, PSPE won the award for "funniest step."

In a feat never accomplished in three decades of national competition, Purdue also won second place, with a team from the College of Technology's Association of Mechanical and Electrical Technologists.  In their first year of national competition the team achieved a perfect run with its haunted classroom theme. The team also won "best step" with its Ghostbusters-inspired green slime that wiped the board clean.

Electrical engineering professor shares insights on transition to active learning classroom

When Dimitrios Peroulis participated in the IMPACT program in 2012, he had already been experimenting with a flipped classroom and student-centered learning for more than a year, creating online lectures for students to view before class and then using class time to lead them through problems and projects.

Since then, Peroulis, an electrical and computer engineering professor and deputy director of the Birck Nanotechnology Center, has tried delivering his introductory electrical engineering course using multiple models – including lecture, online and flipped – while keeping tabs on student performance.

His conclusion thus far? In his experience, students can perform equally across all three styles. The overall effectiveness depends on the available resources, students’ learning styles, and the instructor’s creativity. It is important to offer a variety of methods so students can access the most optimal resources for their own individual style.

Peroulis offers these observations based on his own experiences.

  • Consider class size when choosing a model: The larger the class, the more challenging it can be to engage students in discussion and problem solving.  For large introductory classes that focus on instilling some very basic concepts, a well-executed lecture or online model may be as effective, on the whole, as a flipped classroom.

  • Find tools that keep students engaged outside of class:  In recent semesters, Peroulis’ students have been the heaviest Purdue users of Piazza, a free, Web-based question-and-answer service created to mimic in-class discussion among students and instructors.

  • Use multiple techniques to illustrate course concepts: When Peroulis first started uploading online lecture videos, they were simply in-class recordings of his 50-minute lectures. Today, Peroulis uses Camtasia video software and a Wacom drawing tablet to create short video clips that tackle specific concepts. The clips are faster-paced than an in-class lecture and are easily searchable for students who want to review a particular concept.

  • Keep expectations realistic: As the 2010 recipient of the top Purdue-wide undergraduate teaching honor, the Murphy Award, and a member of Purdue's Teaching Academy, Peroulis is an experienced instructor. But Peroulis says it still took him several semesters to find the same comfort level in the active learning classroom that he enjoyed in the lecture hall.

Join ECE online with Purdue Day of Giving on April 29

Purdue Day of Giving

Purdue Day of Giving is an annual university-wide effort to build a better, stronger, more affordable Purdue. For 24 hours, students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents and friends come together to grant opportunities and transform lives.

We hope you’ll support ECE this Wednesday, April 29th by following along on Facebook and Twitter, by participating in hourly online challenges to earn extra money for ECE, and by making a gift to help ECE claim the top spot on the donation leaderboards!

Your gift on the Purdue Day of Giving will help ECE provide scholarship and fellowships to our most promising ECE students and will support our faculty as they lead cutting-edge research on society’s most important technological needs. Join us!

Purdue University
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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