Free Lesson Plans For Engineering Educators

Hands-on lab projects for first-year students

2 August 2010

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Instructors, are you struggling with finding hands-on lab projects to show your first-year students how engineering can benefit humanity? If so, check out the IEEE Real World Engineering Project, which contains programs for electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering technology, and biomedical engineering majors. The 18 assignments available so far cover such activities as designing an electrocardiogram amplifier, using piezoelectric materials to harvest energy, and creating a personal health record.

Each activity is meant to take two weeks. Modules can be downloaded free of charge.

"Teaching a first-year lab course can be difficult because instructors need to cover a broad range of topics, and no faculty member is an expert in everything," says IEEE Member Joan Carletta, the program chair for the IEEE project. She also is an associate professor in the electrical and computer science department at the University of Akron, Ohio. "Our modules make it much easier to put together a quality course because they can be used as is or readily modified for an instructor's needs."

Each project includes a background lecture, a student project assignment, a description for the instructor's use, the final design, and supplemental material.

The modules, developed by engineering faculty from around the world, have been reviewed by a committee of IEEE members. Each project went through a three-stage, double-blind review process, which included a final review by an expert in the subject. The modules illustrate the relevance and societal impact of engineering, and they teach design principles and the underlying fundamental concepts in a hands-on way.

For example, in "Electrocardiogram Amplifier Design Using Basic Electronic Parts," students use circuit components such as op-amp chips and resistors to improve an EKG's signal quality. They learn the design principles behind bio-potential amplifiers and power line noise suppression. And they can see how different values of circuit components affect amplifier gain and power consumption.

IEEE Member Alfred Yu, a member of the medical engineering program at the University of Hong Kong, developed the project. He is a research assistant professor in the university's department of electrical and electronic engineering.

In "Energy Scavenging from Vibrations," developed by Yanfei Liu, students are taught how to acquire energy from the environment to power embedded systems. An assistant professor of electrical engineering at Indiana-Purdue University, in Fort Wayne, Ind., Liu has students build a motor system to generate vibrations that resonate with a piezoelectric buzzer, and then scavenge energy from the buzzer to charge a battery. (Piezoelectricity is the ability of materials such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter to generate an electric potential in response to mechanical strain.)

Students, working in teams, use a DC motor and Lego building-block pieces such as gears, shafts, and cams to design gear trains for a vibrating system that matches as closely as possible the resonant frequency of a piezoelectric buzzer. Students compare the output voltage responses of the buzzer so as to understand the tradeoffs between design complexity and generated energy. The more complex the design, the more it costs and the longer it takes to implement, but the more energy it should generate.

Another project, "Developing a Personally Controlled Health Record Using Microsoft Visual C#," addresses the problem of incomplete medical histories. Most people don't receive all their medical care from a single provider. And with each provider maintaining his or her own patient record, there is no comprehensive summary showing an individual's entire medical history, including diagnoses, lab tests, and prescriptions. Therefore, the need for individuals to keep their own personal health record might be the only solution. Students use Microsoft Visual C# to create text files to store medical information. They learn the importance of privacy and security of information by researching cryptography, and they use an algorithm to encrypt and decrypt data.

The module was created by Nicky Mostert-Phipps, a software development lecturer with the Faculty of Information Technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Other projects cover signal and image processing, power generation, electrical signal measurement, and computer architecture. And more are in the works.

"Our committee's goal is to fill the project library with enough modules to cover IEEE's fields of interest thoroughly, and also offer alternatives for covering a particular topic," Carletta says. "We want instructors worldwide to be able to find a wide variety of exercises so they can easily combine the modules of their choice to make an interesting semester-long course."

To learn more about the program, read "Hands-On Projects for Budding Engineers" [The Institute, December 2008].

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