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I see fields: Mayer's many visualizations clarify complex concepts | ECE | Virginia Tech

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I see fields: Mayer's many visualizations clarify complex concepts

Jeff Mayer pointing at a powerpoint projection.
JEFF MAYER incorporates visualizations and MATLAB modeling into his lesson plans, and uses them as tools to unlock complex concepts for his students.

When teaching complex or theoretical topics, Jeff Mayer, a collegiate associate professor of ECE, reaches into his background in power systems, power electronics, and controls. Then there are his years of research on power system survivability in extreme conditions and following catastrophes.

He also mines his seemingly endless library of visualizations and models.

"Pure mathematical modeling doesn't work for most of us," he says. The visualizations particularly help students look at magnetic fields, he says. "Being able to see the fields, understand flux, and figure out torque is much easier with a visual model."

Jeff Mayer headshot
Jeff Mayer, collegiate associate professor.

Mayer, who teaches AC Circuit Analysis (ECE 3004), Introduction to Power Systems (ECE 3304), and Electrical Theory (ECE 3054), incorporates MATLAB modeling in his lesson plans and uses it as a tool to unlock concepts for his students. With MATLAB, he says, "students can get started without knowing a whole lot of computer background."

While the visualizations are not necessarily eye-popping, "I can generate the field plots for a variety of different machines or configurations," says Mayer. "It allows students to see the impact of changes in the winding structure and the geometry of the machine, for instance."

Recently, he wanted to show students that although a power circle diagram and nose curve are derived in different ways, they are fundamentally related. Both are connected to power flow through a transmission line, and he developed a 3D model to demonstrate this relationship.

"Once you have it in 3D, you can show the classical sections, the power circles, and nose curves in different ways and uncover new relationships between the variables," says Mayer.

It can make a difference for students, says Mayer. "If they're interested, MATLAB's symbolic toolbox for Laplace and Fourier transforms can make life so much easier."

He has also developed a compact circuit simulator that uses fewer than 100 lines of code. With the simulator, students can model any circuit of interest, including symbolic models, and generate information like frequency responses.

Mayer also employs modeling in his research projects. He is currently building a model to express the input impedance of high-frequency power converters.

He is also developing models for power flow. "Although the power flow field matured and became standard ages ago, it doesn't work as well at the extremes," he says.

Introducing Jeff Mayer

  • Joined ECE January 2017
  • Associate professor, Penn State, 1997-2016
  • Ph.D., electrical engineering, Purdue University, 1991
  • M.S., electrical engineering, Purdue University, 1988
  • B.S., electrical engineering, Purdue University, 1987

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