Alan Kay, the pioneering computer scientist who invented the Smalltalk programming language back in the 1970s, is justly famous for saying, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” To this idea, I would add, “And then you have to educate the next generation of inventors!” Test and measurement companies need our colleges and universities to turn out a steady stream of eager graduates. These are the people we’ll be counting on to invent the world we’ll live in tomorrow, as well as the market for the next generation of products we’re developing. Leaders in the test industry have an obligation to support students while they’re in school so they have the requisite skills and experience to contribute to their employers the day after graduation.
A Focus on Education and the Future
In addition to our products for the worldwide electronics industry, Keithley maintains a long-standing focus on the education market, providing a variety of instruments suitable for use in university electrical engineering labs and university-based research organizations. Last year, in cooperation with Tektronix and Fluke, we joined the Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program (HEEAP) with the goal of providing increased opportunities for engineering students to obtain practical, hands-on experience using electrical and electronic testing and measurement in manufacturing and research and development applications. Through HEEAP, a variety of governmental agencies, universities, and industry partners are collaborating with top technical universities in Vietnam to advance electrical and mechanical engineering curricula and support the country’s growing high-tech industry. Tektronix, Fluke and Keithley’s donations to the program include a range of industry-leading oscilloscopes, digital multimeters, power supplies, arbitrary waveform generators and other instrumentation to be used by students at the HEEAP partner universities. Scholarships provide funding for faculty from the partner universities to participate in HEEAP training programs to develop and implement instructional improvement projects.
University-Based Solar Race Teams
Keithley has worked with a number of university-based solar vehicle race teams based in the United States over the years, providing teams with instrumentation and guidance on how to use it effectively. Most recently, we donated a Model 2440 5A SourceMeter® instrument to Oregon State University’s Solar Vehicle Team (OSUSVT) to help them analyze and troubleshoot the mono-crystalline silicon solar modules they’re designing to power the Phoenix, the solar race car in which they competed in the 2012 American Solar Challenge. The team reports that the Model 2440 has already helped them boost the power output of this year’s vehicle by 50 percent over last year’s.
A member of Oregon State University’s Solar Vehicle Team (OSUSVT) characterizes one of mono-crystalline silicon solar modules developed to power the Phoenix, the solar race car in which they competed in the American Solar Challenge.
The OSU team, which includes students, staff, and faculty members, has developed a soldering, testing, and laminating procedure to produce slightly flexible, lightweight solar modules based on mono-crystalline solar cells. To maximize the Phoenix’s performance, they need to acquire parametric data on each of the solar modules they construct in order to arrange the sub-arrays on the car in the most efficient manner. They use the Model 2440 to characterize each module using an I-V curve tracing technique.
Kathy Han, the team manager, notes, “The Model 2440 gives us accurate data on maximum power output, open-current voltage, short-circuit current, maximum voltage, and maximum current, which lets us detect problems like shorted and cracked cells, as well as to determine the best sub-array location for each module to maximize overall power output or to reject a module outright. Before we had access to the Model 2440, we had problems with one of our previous solar arrays that used solar cells that had been laser-cut from the front side, which we now know produces some melting of the p/n junction. This caused internal shorts and increased internal resistance in the cells. The Model 2440 lets detect problems that simply weren’t detectable before and to match solar cells better. Because of Keithley’s generous donation, this year’s vehicle has 50 percent higher power output (900W instead of 600W) than last year’s.”
Universities all over the world have student/faculty programs like Oregon State’s solar race team, and many of them would be eager to work with corporate donors to fund their efforts. I’d encourage any test and measurement company interested in being a part of the next generation of electrical engineering excellence to explore the opportunities these programs offer for students and vendors alike.About the Author
Charles Cimino has been with Keithley Instruments in Cleveland, Ohio, which is part of the Tektronix test and measurement portfolio, for more than 20 years in various product and business development roles. Currently, he is the company’s marketing director, and is responsible for Keithley’s core instrument products and markets including SourceMeter® instruments, sensitive, DMM and signal switching products sold to global research and production accounts. Cimino has an undergraduate electrical engineering degree and received his MBA from Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.