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Partnership paves way for new undergraduate lab equipment

A group of students works with the new Tektronix test units.

The new electronic test units include a mixed domain oscilloscope that tracks electrical signals over time to analyze the performance of, for example, a student-built circuit. Photos by Hannah Sturtecky.

MU Engineering students hitting the undergraduate research lab for classes and homework this semester discovered the lab’s aging electronic test equipment had been replaced with new, state-of-the art units from Tektronix.

The new units include a mixed domain oscilloscope that tracks electrical signals over time to analyze the performance of, for example, a student-built circuit. Also included in the modular units are a digital multi-meter, an arbitrary waveform/function generator, and a triple-output DC power supply.

Greg [Emanuel, engineering’s director of facilities and technology] and I were looking at replacing the equipment,” said Jim Fischer, a resident instructor in the College’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “We sat down and described the ECE Department’s wish list for test equipment.”

After compiling the list and discovering what distributors would charge for the equipment, the pair suffered sticker shock. Turning to distributor Newark element14, they were connected with Tektronix, and both the distributor and the electronic test and measurement giant came through.

“We do what we can to support the customer and our relationship with the community to develop a lab that is one of the most technologically advanced in the country,” said David Willard, a Newark territory manager of the 25 percent discount his company provided.

A student works on putting together circuitry.

Also included in the modular units are a digital multi-meter, an arbitrary waveform/function generator, and a triple-output DC power supply.

Because it was a bulk order, the College paid for 24 of the needed units and Tektronix generously donated another 11.

“We have instruments that go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but for $10 to $15 thousand, we can make a simpler version [for educational use] that has the same instruments as in the real world,” said Kirk Jensen, Tektronix’s technical marketing manager.

“We’re always looking at up-and-coming engineers, making sure they’re prepared,” Jensen said.

The company also included its new software, TekSmartLab, in the package. It allows the instructor to share a configuration with all students in the class. It also allows the instructor to select any given workbench to view a student’s work and/or the settings of a specific student.

Jensen said that MU Engineering is “blazing a trail” with the software.

“We wanted to partner with someone we could work with,” he added. “This is a case study for us. I plan to come and visit and ask ‘Do you like it? What do you wish it would do that it doesn’t?’”

The new units have been well received in the lab. ECE graduate student Chris Kirkendall, who serves as a lab instructor for ECE 2100 Circuit Theory class, noted that compared to the equipment used in previous semesters, the overall setup is much more convenient and conducive to student learning.

“This [equipment] is what they’ll see when they get out in industry — not just electrical and engineering students, but all students,” said Fischer.