Analog Angle Article

“The Kids are Alright”–at least in the area of analog engineering education

There's a lot of lamenting abut the state of education in general, and engineering education in particular. I won't speak about the first area, but I do have some perspective on the latter. We hear that much of today's engineering education is (pick one or more): too shallow, too theoretical, too specialized, too abstract, too academic, too remote, too dull, too sensationalist, too trendy, too much simulation in place of hands-on; the list goes on and on.

Some of these criticisms may be true in some areas and at some institutions, but they are not universally the case. I can say this because I have seen first-hand, direct evidence that “the kids are alright” (with apologies to legendary rock group The Who ).

Recently, I had the privilege of being one of the judges for the Texas Instruments 2009 Analog University Design Contest and Engibous Prize (named after their recently retired Chairman). This contest required that student teams develop projects using a number of TI-catalog analog components of their own choosing; since many analog components have industry-wide alternate or second sources, the design lessons of these projects are applicable well beyond “TI-centric only”.

In short: was very impressed with all aspects of most of the top entries, starting with the specific ideas they chose to work on. Student teams planned their projects, did research, designed circuits, and simulated them. Then the real fun began: they selected and procured parts for their BOM, built and tested their designs, and assessed performance versus goals and plans. Even the act of writing a detailed engineering-design and review report (these ran 60+ pages, typically) is a valuable lesson and experience.

Just look at the topics of the top entries: “200 W, Class D Subwoofer Amplifier” (First Place), “Portable Brain Wave Monitor” (Second Place), Photovoltaic Array with Max Power Point Tracking” (Third Place), and “Prioritized Back-up Power System” (Poster Session Winner). These are not trivial, nor do they lack ambition!

As we all know, simulation of circuits with real-world interfacing and considerations is one thing, but reality is quite another. As an additional benefit, many of the teams even identified weak areas in their plans or designs, and where and why they'd like to do things better or differently next time

The prize money was modest, but the experience and results were priceless. The total sequence through design, component section, physical construction, and performance evaluation is the combination of theory, practice, and project clean-up that students need. The entries for the Engibous Prize show what good engineering education can do, and the hard work it requires, and the benefits it returns.

If you want to see more about the Engibous Prize, or read the entries of the 2009 (and 2008) winners, click here; you won't be disappointed. ♦

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