A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Course Highlight

Measurement Lab Moves Fast, Challenges Students to Make Decisions

It's a busy place, a noisy place, with six or seven things happening at once. But that's like a real industrial environment, said Professor Patrick V. Farrell, one of the faculty who teaches the required Measurements Lab (ME 368) in a big, open room. It's one of the things that students will get used to when they become engineers. Lecturer Fred M. Reames teaches the lab in the fall.

"For most of the ME students, it's one of the first labs they've had since chemistry," said Farrell, "so doing engineering experiments from the beginning is new, as are the lab reports, and group work. It moves fast and a lot happens. Most struggle with the challenges of doing experiments and getting the equipment to work. But they learn to appreciate that's what's challenging about experiments!
Measurement Lab class

Teaching assistant Endre Veka demonstrates equipment for measuring stress and strain to students in the ME 368 Measurements Lab. (47K JPG)

"The pace is a challenge. Students get frustrated when equipment doesn't work, due to lack of experience, because brand new equipment can break or not work as expected." In the lab, students are introduced to measuring systems for vibrations, acoustics, stress and strain, gas sampling, thermodynamic efficiencies, and temperature. Right now, Farrell is putting some effort into changing the class to use more modern instrumentation, more computer-based equipment. "It is a real challenge keeping equipment up to date," Farrell admitted. "We have few instruments less than five years old." Two major items on his wish list would be more up-to-date computer-based data-acquisition systems, and up-to-date oscilloscopes.

To make the lab less confusing for students, Farrell is trying to reduce the number of experiments and increase the amount of time students spend on each. For their final class project, Farrell said that he has asked students to design their own experiments, including writing a proposal, outlining the procedure, and concluding with a class presentation. For example, one student wants to measure the output of his car speakers, while another wants to measure the speed of light in the lab. "Part of my goal is to make the lab so interesting that they want to do the experiments themselves, and not rely on someone else's work in the group."

Professor Farrell also said that he is refocusing to encourage students to view the class as not just an introduction to instrumentation hardware, but also as an introduction to how to conduct good experiments. He wants them to be able to analyze and interpret results and be able to relay them to someone else. "If you do an experiment and can't communicate the results to someone else, you've wasted your time," he said. That's why Farrell requires his students to write executive summaries for their lab reports.

The Measurements Lab introduces mechanical engineering students to one of the ways that practicing engineers develop new information and insight. Combined with analytical and computational approaches, measurements and the ability to communicate meaningful measurement results are likely to be a valuable tool for mechanical engineers.

ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.

ME Newsletter
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572

      Editor: Gail Gawenda

Designer: Lynda Litzkow

Last Modified: Wednesday, 07-Jul-1999 17:00:00 CDT

SPRING 1999 Contents