William Yu/Adnan Sarker: Integrating Design
Introducing Shuxiang (William) Yu
- Joined ECE June 2019
- M.S., electrical engineering, Virginia Tech, 2019
- B.A., economics, Virginia Tech, 2019
- B.S., electrical engineering, Virginia Tech, 2017
Introducing Md Adnan Sarker
- Joined ECE July 2019
- Research engineer, University of Texas at El Paso, 2018-2019
- Instructor, El Paso Community College, 2018-2019
- M.S., electrical and computer engineering, New Mexico State University, 2017
- System engineer, ZTE Corporation, 2012
- Lecturer, Eastern University, 2009-2011
- RF engineer, Hawaii Technology Bangladesh LTD, 2011
- B.S., electrical and electronics engineering, Khulna University of Engineering and Technology, 2009
A smart home, a wind turbine, and an audio direction finder– this year’s Integrated Design Project students selected a challenge based on one of these three technologies. The course helps students discover what they can accomplish with the knowledge they have already acquired over their freshman and sophomore years. New faculty members Md Adnan Sarker and William Yu collaborated with William Baumann, director of instructional labs and associate professor, to develop the projects, which incorporate innovative technologies that capture students’ interest while testing their ability to synthesize skills from multiple domains across ECE. The course prepares students for the Major Design Experience — and a lifetime of creative problem-solving.
The temperature goes up and a fan turns on and the air conditioning kicks in; a timer finishes and the washing machine starts a cycle; a motion sensor is triggered and a security system alerts the homeowner and authorities. The students working on Sarker’s smart home project must draw on their analog, digital, control, and programming skills to develop a single system allowing users to monitor, command, and automate a household of appliances through a smartphone app.
Each of the students’ smart homes differs in its design and capabilities according to the team’s vision and expertise. “Every day I’m learning something new,” Sarker says, “Every student comes with their own problem, I go back and think through my own response, but I also get to see how they solve it themselves. There is also a learning curve for me. It’s not one-sided.”
Sarker has a uniquely varied engineering background that helps him adapt to these different needs as well. After completing his masters in 2017, he worked at the University of Texas at El Paso developing cube satellites. These small, student- and researcher-designed satellites fit into unused cargo space on NASA rockets and allow groups around the country to experiment with research in space on a limited budget, using readily available components. “My job was to make sure all systems were working properly and to develop interface and software for both transmitters and receivers,” he explains.
Concurrently, Sarker taught at El Paso Community College, where he covered courses in a variety of disciplines, including mechanical engineering and civil engineering. “I was so diversified within my field,” he observes, adding that this broad background helped prepare him to teach the Integrated Design Project.
Originally, Sarker’s research centered on radars. As a master’s student, he helped develop a laptop-based radar to detect objects like speeding cars and a vehicle-mounted ground penetrating radar to detect underground features like mines. At Virginia Tech, he is also teaching Applied Electrical Theory, and he plans to develop cube satellite and radar projects for ECE students in the coming years.
3D Printed Wind Turbines
In William Yu’s project for the Integrated Design course, students use free 3D printing facilities at the Virginia Tech library to create a small-scale, functioning wind turbine. They then have to design a system to harvest the energy from the turbine. “I believe new technology attracts students’ attention,” Yu explains, “Interest is the best teacher.”
His students build both the software and hardware of the system, using power processing electronics and a microcontroller for active feedback control. The project contains hidden challenges that test the students’ knowledge of switching converters and voltage shifting, and most importantly, their ability to capture as much energy from the turbine as possible. “Efficiency is king,” Yu says.
“We only tell them what we expect as the end result,” Yu explains, “We’re not going to tell them anything about the circuits; they don’t know what kind of components to choose. Initially they will probably have no clue.” He provides book chapters for inspiration and offers his own guidance, but notes that students “looking for answers themselves is a good way to learn.”
After his class, Yu hopes that his students will have a renewed interest in ECE, but also that, “they will have something to brag about when they go for an internship or at a party.”
After completing his masters at Virginia Tech in 2019, Yu initially thought he would work in industry and pursue teaching later in his career, but he was thrilled to join ECE and jump ahead in his plans. “I’ve always respected the job of teaching,” he explains.
Originally from China, Yu grew up next to a large factory where his father was a chemical engineer and then COO. But, he notes, “my parents didn’t want me to do chemical engineering, because it was dangerous and smells bad.” He also has strong interests in economics and politics, but was ultimately drawn to ECE because, as he tells his students, “everything is going to be based on electrical and computer engineering or computer science. This is the future, the trend. I’ll gladly follow it.”