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New Design Education Lab Sparks Next Generation of Electrical and Computer Engineers

PITTSBURGH (October 16, 2018) … Sometimes a learning environment needs to not only be inspiring, but also “electrifying.”

The Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering opened its Design Education Laboratory at the beginning of the fall semester 2018. The space combines cutting-edge technology with a sleek, contemporary design to reflect the modernization of the department, which has been taking place over the past few semesters.

“The new lab is the showcase of the ECE department, not just for its looks but also the functionality,” says James Lyle, ECE department technology lead. “The space brings together everything an electrical and computer engineer can do. It provides an environment for our students to gain the knowledge and experience to build things on their own.”

Located on the 12th floor of Benedum Hall, the lab serves as a classroom, a meeting place for workshops and study space. It’s open 24 hours and gives students access to a variety of tools and equipment.

Features include:

  • Custom-designed work benches
  • Testing equipment (soldering stations, power supplies, multimeters, oscilloscopes, etc.)
  • Five smart TVs
  • Clean, wireless workspaces

Professors and instructors can use the smart TVs during their lessons and demonstrations, and students can use them to facilitate group projects. They are fully accessible by students for wireless pairing with their smart phones, laptops or other devices. 

ECE DesksPitt ECE alumni Thomas Cook and Corey Weimann led the design of the "work benches" while undergraduate students. Credit: Swanson School of Engineering/Ric Evans Photography
“Students today embrace technology, and they know how this stuff works. It only makes sense to give them access to it,” says William McGahey, ECE department technology lead.

Pitt ECE alumni Thomas Cook and Corey Weimann led the design of the room’s “work benches” while they were still undergraduate students. Instead of a typical, austere work bench, the lab’s benches are topped with butcher block to provide a non-conductive, durable surface for working on electronic projects. Cook and Weimann also designed the benches to complement the room’s aesthetics. 

“Since the room is entirely glassed in, we designed the benches to look appealing to people walking past the lab, especially prospective students who are on tours with family,” says Cook. “Another goal of the room and desks was to make students comfortable and give them lots of space to learn and work on their projects without being confined to a small area.”

Dr. Alan George, who joined the Swanson School as chair of the ECE department in January 2017, has encouraged students and the department to undertake projects that are large in scope and require a range of skills to complete.

“The lab provides students with a space to design and test hardware. It was common for students to develop software for their senior design projects in the past, now we’re seeing a lot more complex projects with software and hardware components,” says Samuel Dickerson, assistant professor and undergraduate director of computer engineering. For example, Dr. Dickerson and ECE Assistant Professor Dr. Ahmed Dallal advised a team of electrical engineers for the Swanson School’s Spring 2018 Design Expo. The team, called SoleSense, designed an IoT-enabled shoe with biometric capabilities and won the prize for Best Overall Project.

“The Design Education Laboratory is another valuable asset for providing our students with the resources and knowledge they need to take on these complex projects,” says Dr. Dickerson. “I think we’re going to see a lot more ECE students winning design competitions like the SoleSense team, and I really look forward to the caliber of Senior Design project in upcoming semesters.”


Sam and StudentECE Lab 2
Prof. Dickerson (right) with ECE student Jennifer Gingerich (left).ECE 1895: Junior Design course.
ECE Jim and BillECE Lab Empty
ECE Department Technology Leads William McGahey (left) and James Lyle (right).The ECE Design Education Laboratory.
*All photo credits: Swanson School of Engineering/Ric Evans Photography

Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Contact: Matt Cichowicz