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UW implements new RF and microwave teaching lab

In the average residence hall room, about 20 devices that are WiFi or cellular enabled can be running at once, estimates UW Electrical Engineering (EE) Department Chair Vikram Jandhyala. Making these coexist happily is one of many challenges the department will be able to address with the addition of a new radio frequency (RF) and microwave teaching laboratory.

Agilent Technologies, a global developer of electronic equipment for measurement and evaluation, provided the UW with approximately $1 million in premier hardware and software, including eight mobile devices that will allow students to participate in fieldwork for the first time.

The students will use the mobile devices to measure RF and microwaves out in the field.

“It’s very rare that students get to use this hands on,” Jandhyala said. “What we had before was much lower-end equipment, which didn’t give the same capacity, accuracy, and precision.”

This new equipment replaces outdated machines and will allow the UW to move ahead of current standards and become a trendsetter, Jandhyala said. 

“We are the first to do this with Agilent with this high-tech RF equipment,” Jandyala said, “and they want to repeat that model with other universities once they see how we succeed.”

John Sahr, the EE associate chair for advancement and infrastructure, said this new technology will adjust some of the current curriculum in the department and will be fully implemented by next fall. Sahr and Bruce Darling, the EE associate chair for education are leading the project.

“Initially, we’ll augment the existing courses with physical laboratory material, but it’s very possible that we could actually at some point phase out some courses and add new ones that are designed around this kind of equipment,” he said.

This addition will primarily affect undergraduates at the senior level, as well as beginning graduate students, and will allow Sahr and other professors to teach students in a more applied way.

“Having a hands on laboratory experience is better than doing everything in simulation, which is mainly what we’re doing right now,” Sahr said. “To have an actual physical laboratory experience is something that we’re really happy to be able to provide to students.”

Two undergraduate students, Xinyu Xie and Molly O’Callahan, are currently working with the faculty to provide students with a smooth transition into this new curriculum.

“Basically what we’re doing is finding out how to use the new technology to help the students do the experiments and have them understand this material,” Xie said.

Sahr said the updated curriculum will allow students to experience the material in a more visual way.

“We’ll be able to have some nice experiments where they can see the waves bouncing back and forth,” he said. “The can see the quality of the communications channel improve or decline in a very real way.”

Reach reporter Lauren Smith at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @smithlm12

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