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Visualizing Concepts in Electromagnetic Fields: Hands-On Experiments Using Student-Owned Laboratory Kits

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

New Developments in Teaching Electromagnetics and Related Topics

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1669.1 - 22.1669.10



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Paper Authors


Yong Xu Virginia Tech

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Dr. Yong Xu received his B.S. in Applied Physics from Tsinghua University (China) in 1995 and his Ph.D. in Physics from California Institute of Technology in 2001. From 2001 to 2004, he worked as a research scientist at Orbits Lightwave, a startup company, and then a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. Since 2005, he is an assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, a faculty member of the Center for Photonics Technology at Virginia Tech, and a affiliated faculty member of the biomedical imaging division of the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University.

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Kathleen Meehan Virginia Tech

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Kathleen Meehan is an Associate Professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, she worked at the University of Denver and West Virginia University in addition to working twelve years in industry. Her research interests include optoelectronic materials and devices and high heat load packaging in addition to Electrical Engineering pedagogy.

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Cortney V. Martin Virginia Tech


Alan B Overby

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Alan Overby is currently an undergraduate student studying Electrical Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. His research interests include RF, communication systems, and optoelectronic devices.

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Xiangyu Wei Virginia Tech

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Visualizing Concepts in Electromagnetic Fields: Hands-On Experiments Using Student-Owned Laboratory KitsElectromagnetic (EM) fields has been a core subject taught to Electrical and Computerengineering (ECE) students as EM concepts form the foundation for many of the principles thatare used in every area of electrical engineering. Yet, interest in the required junior level EMcourses and the subsequent EM technical electives is waning at XX. The percentage of seniorsenrolled in the technical electives in the EM area is the lowest of all technical electives offeredby the ECE department. Unfortunately, lack of student interest in EM courses has also beenobserved at other universities in the United States. This is disturbing as many of the upcomingtechnologies in electronics, communications, biomedicine, and imaging require greaterapplication of concepts from EM. Hence, it is critical that the methods used to teach EMconcepts change to improve the understanding of the fundamental concepts in EM and to attractmore students into the field to insure that our students can participate in the technologicaladvancements.Traditionally, instruction in the required EM courses tends to concentrate on abstract theory andtranslation of theory to practice occurs in the senior technical electives. However, the emphasison the theoretical concepts without mention or demonstration of their applications in theintroductory courses fails to engage our students. While computer simulations can be useful tovisualize EM concepts, studies have shown that students who gain the most from simulationsalready have a good grasp of the fundamental concepts, i.e., abstract learners. Thus, the use ofsimulations in core EM courses does not support learning by visual learners, a group with a largedistribution of women and underrepresented minority students. Providing a stronger connectionbetween theory and practice has been shown to assist visual learners to develop a deeperunderstanding of abstract theoretical concepts without harming the learning of the abstractlearners.To achieve our goal to promote a deeper understanding of EM concepts by all students, we havedeveloped a set of hands-on experiments that the students can be perform using a low-costelectronics kit and USB-powered oscilloscope, collectively referred to on campus as Lab-in-a-Box (LiaB). The experiments are designed to promote student comprehension, depth of learning,and application of the fundamental concepts in electromagnetic fields using series of opticalexperiments with eye-safe optoelectronic devices, which enable the students to see theapplication of the concepts. The electronics breadboard serves as an optical table with plasticoptical components mounted and aligned to optoelectronic and electro-optical devices usingsimple optomechanical fixtures positioned in the 0.1” spaced holes. Instructional materials havebeen created to provide background on associated technologies, applications, laser safety, andthe processes used to fabricate some of the custom optical and optomechanical components usedin the experiments. This paper will describe the pedagogical approach to incorporating LiaB intothe EM course, assessment outcomes, and lessons learned.

Xu, Y., & Meehan, K., & Martin, C. V., & Overby, A. B., & Wei, X. (2011, June), Visualizing Concepts in Electromagnetic Fields: Hands-On Experiments Using Student-Owned Laboratory Kits Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18545

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