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Capitol Students Have the Edge in Circuit-Building Contest

Capitol’s practical, hands-on approach to training has long distinguished the college’s programs from those of competitors. While students at some institutions wait until their senior year before they move from theory to practice, Capitol puts its budding engineers into the lab on Day One.

This month, a talented group of Capitol engineering students had an opportunity to showcase their skills and knowhow – with exciting results. The students handily won a Brown Bag Circuit Competition staged as part of the IEEE Student Activities Conference (SAC) at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. held from April 4th through 6th.

In the brown bag event, teams of 1-4 members were given a bag of various components, from which they attempted to build and test a dice-rolling simulator. The components were a 555 timer, a decade counter, a push button, 10 transistors, 7 LEDs, and various resistors and capacitors.

 While some teams struggled with the task, it proved no obstacle for Capitol’s three-person team, consisting of Heather Bell, Christopher “Cody” Creager and Thomas Savageau. With a time limit of 2.5 to 3 hours in which to assemble a functioning product, Capitol College was the only team that succeeded in building a working simulator. Bonus points were awarded if the simulator was pseudo-random or looked like a die; Capitol’s team earned these points as well.

In the end, not only did they win the competition, but they earned the maximum number of points – 50 out of 50. Capitol bested teams from such schools as Drexel, Ohio State, Penn State and Temple, among many others.

“Everyone was given the same amount of stuff,” Savageau explained, “but our team seemed to know how to use transistors as diodes, and also how to simplify the logic of the LED network”

That ability to simplify made a crucial difference, according to Bell. “The way most people were looking at it, you would need a lot more components,” she said.

The team especially benefitted from their classes and lab work in digital design and time constants, Bell and Savageau added. In addition, they said, they drew on skills they developed while playing Minecraft.

The game, Savageau said, provided another platform for applying what they were studying at school. “We learned things in class, then applied it in Minecraft which has digital circuitry to play around with. During the contest we were able to go back and remember ‘here’s how we did this’. The memory came from Minecraft,” he said.

The finished result is currently on display in the robotics lab at the college.

Weiler: Practical training bears fruit

Engineering professor John Ryan accompanied the group as their faculty advisor. “This was a magical experience for me, watching the students be as enthused as they were,” he said. “I’m very proud of all of them.”

According to Dr. Robert Weiler, dean of engineering and computer science, the training Capitol students receive is well-suited to competitions of this nature.

“Many engineering programs are very theoretical,” Weiler said. “They don’t really build things; everything is on paper or on a computer. At Capitol, we build circuits all the time in the lab. During the first two years of our engineering program, you’re required to build at least fifty circuits, and build them yourself from scratch – they’re not pre-built for you.”   

Twenty-seven schools and more than 200 students participated in this year’s IEEE SAC, which also featured contests in robotics and automation, micromouse construction, physics, verbal and oral communications skills and ethics. Capitol teams participated in the robotics and ethics events.

In addition to the three Brown Bag contestants, the Capitol delegation to the SAC included Kierra Harrison, Timothy Johnson, Alex Maricich, Ethan Reesor, Amanda Shields, Dan Steele and Dan Whiteside. Shields is the current president of Capitol’s IEEE branch, and Bell is the president-elect.

The SAC also provided an opportunity to display student projects. Items shown included a school spirit LED display, a wireless internet station on a copter, a reflective solar tracker using a Raspberry Pi computer, an autonomous lawnmower project, a quadcopter controlled by an Arduino and wireless link, and a display of decorated tee shirts. The quadcopter was presented by Capitol College.

Photo: Heather Bell and Thomas Savageau with the winning circuit, which now resides in the Robotics Lab. Bell, Savageau and fellow team member Christopher "Cody" Creager won the maximum 50 points awardable in the Brown Bag contest.

Friday, April 18, 2014