June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Electrical and Computer
13.200.1 - 13.200.13
An Undergraduate Research Experience: Wireless Propagation and Position Location in a Forest Environment
Over the past several years, the undergraduate curriculum at many universities has been evolving to incorporate laboratory exercises and research projects to reinforce and support traditional classroom lectures. In particular, involving undergraduates in meaningful research projects is a key to providing them with the hands-on activities students are demanding. Unfortunately, two areas in the electrical engineering curriculum are suffering from a lack of meaningful hands-on learning activities: electromagnetics and communications. At many universities, electromagnetics is taught as a highly theoretical, highly mathematical class with the goal of providing students a deep understanding of Maxwell’s equations. Students that complete such a course generally struggle when faced with applying Maxwell’s equations to real-world electromagnetics problems such as transmission lines, antenna design, or wireless propagation. Introductory communications courses may have laboratory components, however, involving students in an undergraduate research project is an excellent mechanism to supplement and reinforce the laboratory exercises.
This paper presents a summer undergraduate research experience that involved characterizing ultra wideband wireless propagation and position location in a forest environment. Four undergraduate students were selected to participate in the research experience. All four students had taken the basic electromagnetics and communications courses, although only one had prior hands-on experience. Additionally, the use of impulse ultra-wideband signals represented a new wireless communication scheme that students had to master at the beginning of the research experience. After an initial training period, students were tasked with site selection, experimental design, recording measurements, analyzing data, and troubleshooting equipment failures.
Although it is too early to assess the impact of the research experience on these students’ careers, the experience appears to have been a success. All four students reported a greater depth of understanding of the concepts taught in electromagnetics and communications courses. Additionally, students gained valuable experience in developing and carrying out field experiments—sometimes in less than ideal conditions—and as a result of this experience, some students expressed a desire to pursue a graduate degree. Designing this research project also provided several valuable lessons to the instructors which will aid in the further development of hands-on learning activities for electromagnetics and communications courses.
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