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From reverb chambers to flipped classrooms, ECE alum and new IEEE fellow has made a career studying complex environments | ECE | Virginia Tech

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From reverb chambers to flipped classrooms, ECE alum and new IEEE fellow has made a career studying complex environments

ECE alumnus Charles Bunting.
ECE alumnus Charles Bunting (MSEE '92, Ph.D. '94)

ECE alumnus Charles Bunting (MSEE '92, Ph.D. '94) has spent the past 16 years studying interacting signals—both electromagnetic signals in a reverberation chamber and signals of comprehension from students in the classroom.

He was recently named an IEEE Fellow for his educational contributions to electromagnetic compatibility and reverberation chambers. The status of Fellow is one of the most prestigious honors of the institute, bestowed upon less than one-tenth of one percent of the annual voting membership of IEEE.

Electromagnetic compatibility and the reverberation chamber

A reverberation chamber is a highly reflective metal cavity where electromagnetic signals continuously bounce off the walls at all angles and back into the room. Because the room has such a low absorption rate, researchers can achieve strong, homogenous electromagnetic fields with moderate input power.

"It's essentially a microwave oven," says Bunting. "And ours is large enough to park a car inside."

Bunting and his team use the chamber to look at how electronic systems from different industries—avionics, aerospace, automotive, and others—are susceptible to electromagnetic interference.

In a room full of crisscrossing signals, describing electromagnetic field characteristics is a complicated task, so Bunting and his team use statistical tools to make sense of the intersecting complexities.

A lot of the work uses statistical distribution to help other researchers find out how much interference a specific system can tolerate, says Bunting.

"We work with them to make meaningful predictions about the exposure level in an electromagnetic environment," says Bunting.

Applications in space

Bunting and his team are currently working with NASA's Kennedy Space Center to make predictions about the environment in a spacecraft payload fairing. The fairing, which is essentially the nose cone of a rocket, is often packed with electronic systems transmitters, receivers, and satellites that are powered up in preparation for space deployment.

Bunting and team are using the reverberation chamber to simulate and understand the high intensity electromagnetic environment experienced by these systems during launch.

Applications underground

Bunting's research addresses electromagnetic interference on (and under) the surface of the planet as well, which is increasingly problematic as the number of wireless devices grows.

For instance, the OSU team is currently working with a company that designs and builds automated wireless digging equipment.

"Equipment signals can be interrupted by power lines, a nearby airport, or even the operator's cellphone" says Bunting. "We're trying to minimize interference and avoid rogue drill bits that might cause infrastructure damage."

Educational research

After being awarded a Department Level Reform Grant from the National Science Foundation in 2005, Bunting used his experience in front of a classroom as a platform to explore engineering pedagogy.

He implemented what is now referred to as a "flipped classroom" with several junior-level electromagnetism classes and a circuits class. In this model, students read the text and took formative online quizzes outside of class and worked on problems previously relegated to homework in class with their peers.

One of these classes was the subject of Bunting's most-cited paper in a 2011 edition of the Journal of Engineering Education. In this study, he described connecting "the open-ended nature of projects that connected well with higher levels of learning, which, though demonstrably effective via proxy methods, was not reflected in student self-reporting through class surveys."

Educational research, in some respects, is more challenging than reverberation chamber electromagnetic research, says Bunting.

"It's easier to measure electromagnetic signals than the effectiveness of my teaching method," says Bunting. "The scholarship of teaching and learning is a science in and of itself."

Bunting credits Virginia Tech's ECE department, in part, for setting a strong, positive example when he was a student.

"We had room to experiment and take risks, both in our research and in our approach to teaching," says Bunting. "And there was a lot of great pedagogical activity at Virginia Tech."

Shepherding research

After Bunting graduated from Virginia Tech, he was an assistant (and then associate) professor in electrical engineering technology at Old Dominion University. In 2001, he moved to Oklahoma State University (OSU) where he was promoted from associate professor to professor in 2011, and then named the Halliburton Professor of Engineering in 2012. He currently serves as the associate dean of research in the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology.

In 2013, Bunting took on the role of associate dean of research in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at OSU. In this capacity, he has promoted collaborative research, sought unique pathways to funding, and helped faculty members write proposals.

Recently named Bellmon Chair, Bunting continues his research, and will teach a class this spring. He's looking forward to continuing to help people understand the impact of complex environments—both in the classroom and in the reverberation chamber as well as in the ever-evolving research landscape.