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Picasso's Clarinet: When Art And Engineering Collide

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Innovations in ECE Education I

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.956.1 - 14.956.13



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Paper Authors


Susan Burkett University of Alabama

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Susan Burkett is the Alabama Power Foundation Endowed Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alabama. She received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. Professor Burkett is a member of ASEE, AVS: Science and Technology Society, MRS, and a Senior Member of IEEE.

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Charles Snead University of Alabama

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Charles Snead is the Director of the School of Music at the University of Alabama and Founding Member of the TransAtlantic Horn Quartet. He is a Hornist with the Alabama Brass Quintet and Capstone Woodwind Quintet as well as Principal Hornist of the Tuscaloosa Symphony.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Picasso’s Clarinet: When Art and Engineering Collide


A pilot-scale laboratory was explored in an introductory electrical and computer engineering (ECE) course designed to exercise creativity. The idea for this laboratory was initiated by the music department as a way to promote collaboration and as part of a fund raising activity. In this lab, students built lamps from retired musical instruments. The creative process was marked by progression through various stages including brainstorming, formalizing a construction plan, drawing schematic representations of the instrument/lamp, generating a parts/tool list, and implementation of the design. This project addressed the need for promoting creative thought in engineering undergraduate students for enhanced product design. Attention was given to the artistic component, a view often neglected. There were 43 total students in the class and they were arranged into seven groups. The music department donated the instruments that included a: saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, piccolo, trumpet, mellophone, and trombone. The students were tasked to design and build a lamp from these instruments and the team budgets averaged $60 per group. The laboratory activity and completed lamp designs will be described in this paper. A competition was held and the lamps resulting from this laboratory were sold at a fund raising auction event. The faculty members associated with this project indeed considered the lamps to be a very creative product.

Introduction In spring semester 2008, a laboratory to infuse creativity into the design process was explored in the first required course for freshmen in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). The course, ECE 125: Fundamentals of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is a two credit course with two lectures per week and a total of five laboratories held throughout the semester. The lecture introduces students to basic circuit analysis, programming in MATLAB, and a survey of the ECE discipline. The laboratory component includes: promoting breadboarding and solder skills, analyzing an automobile lighting system, building basic op-amp circuits, and building an AM radio from a kit. This lecture/laboratory combination provides instruction of basic concepts and promotes basic skills. The laboratory, however, does so in a somewhat formulaic, step-by- step approach. The intent of the experimental laboratory described in this paper was to raise awareness of the creative process in ECE students as a powerful skill to possess in problem solving. This process can be considered to be linked closely to design, an area that is emphasized in engineering programs, although in this project, the artistic component is given equal billing. Creativity/artistry is especially important in today’s competitive environment.

The goal of the laboratory was to exercise and enhance the creative process in lower level ECE students. This trait, creativity, is considered to impact globalization1 yet most engineering programs do not emphasize this skill. Globalization is stressed as a critical issue for the success of future STEM professionals in The Engineer of 20202 and Educating the Engineer of 2020.3 A disadvantage in de-emphasizing creativity is that functionality may dominate the design process with little regard to visual considerations.1 Project objectives include: 1) Making ECE more appealing to students early in their academic career; 2) Demonstrating that engineering is a creative process; and 3) Prompting students to think about problems in a non-formulaic manner.

Burkett, S., & Snead, C. (2009, June), Picasso's Clarinet: When Art And Engineering Collide Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4512

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