Generous Donation Ensures Hands-On Learning for Electrical Engineering Students

All freshmen in ECSE will receive new personal instrumentation hardware

October 7, 2020


Even as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes many aspects of the future uncertain, a generous gift will ensure that first-year students in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute continue to receive a hands-on education.

All students taking the course Introduction to Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering this year will receive an Analog Devices ADALM1000 Active Learning Module, which is a portable lab of sorts that is nearly small enough to fit inside a pocket. This will allow students to explore the fundamentals of electrical engineering from anywhere.

“This is a class that’s completely hands-on, but with these boards, it could be done online if necessary,” said Mahmood Hameed, a lecturer in electrical, computer, and systems engineering who teaches the course. “This also allows students to tinker with circuits at their own pace, they don’t need to just follow what I’m teaching.”

This initiative is made possible through a generous donation from Douglas Mercer ’77, a pioneer in analog-digital conversion. Mercer joined Analog Devices in 1977, where he contributed to more than 30 commercial products. He holds 13 US patents, was appointed ADI Fellow in 1995, and retired from full-time work in 2009. He remains a Fellow Emeritus within Analog Devices. A longtime supporter of Rensselaer, the timing of his latest gift couldn’t have been better.

“It turns out that this idea was particularly prescient, given what happened in March and the rapid need to move to remote learning, or at the very least, the required physical distancing in teaching where large groups of students can no longer gather in a traditional shared laboratory setting,” Mercer said.

The personal instrumentation hardware looks like a circuit board, and it helps students visualize the relationships between current, voltage, and impedance.

“The ADALM 1000 allows students to gain hands-on laboratory experience directly using their own laptop and parts, and then apply or reinforce their knowledge using industry-grade equipment on campus,” said John Wen, head of the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer. “The ADALM 1000 is also ‘open,’ which means it has an open interface to allow students to be creative and find new ways to use the board.”

The ability to provide all incoming students with this device will, according to Wen, allow the department to integrate the use of this board into its curriculum throughout students’ undergraduate education.

Mercer has long been involved in the ECSE Department, sponsoring a student circuit design contest since 2007, endowing a distinguished lecturer seminar series, and providing an endowment in 2012 to establish the Douglas Mercer ’77 Laboratory for Student Exploration & Innovation, an open electronics makerspace where students can tinker with their own ideas. That hands-on experience is an aspect of the learning process Mercer deeply believes in. 

“Early learning in a hands-on manner with the ADALM1000 will ensure a solid foundation for students to build on, as they pursue science, technology, or engineering careers,” Mercer said.

Written By Torie Wells
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