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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Jacobs School Seniors Bring Engineering Talent to a Hands-on Physics Course

 Ezekiel Bhasker
             Ezekiel Bhasker is a senior majoring 
            in computer engineering and physics
         and co-developer of the BUSTED device 
San Diego, CA, March 28, 2005 -- Computer engineering major Ezekiel Bhasker and electrical engineering major Daniel Wang were BUSTED. But it's not what you think. BUSTED is an acronym the two Jacobs School of Engineering seniors gave to their final project for a popular Physics course. The acronym stands for 'Ballistic Ultra-Sonic Target Elimination Device.' At the 26th annual Physics 121 Special Projects Showcase in Warren Lecture Hall, the BUSTED system tracked projectiles with ultrasonics and used an electro-magnetic cannon to intercept its target-a balloon.

"I would heartily recommend this course to other engineering students," said ECE's Wang. "The emphasis on having the students choose the project under basic guidelines provides more room for creativity and innovation than the average course."

Not every engineering senior can get into Physics 121, because they have to compete with physics seniors on their 'home turf' - and more people want to take the course than can be accommodated. During the winter quarter, only four engineering majors were enrolled and therefore eligible to participate in the annual showcase. Apart from Bhasker and Wang, the other Jacobs School of Engineering students were Puneet Khattar and Nick Comfoltey.

 Physics
Physics 121 professor Fred Driscoll on the  inventive devices created by students, including Puneet
Khattar's line- following car. Length: 00:47
"This year we were overwhelmed with student interest and had to limit enrollment to 14 benches with two students at each," said Physics professor C. Fred Driscoll, who taught this year's course. "We only had room for four engineers, although in some prior years we had more, including the 10 engineers out of 15 students who took the same course I taught in 1998."

Physics 121 is a 10-week course divided in half. The first five weeks are dedicated to studying data acquisition and control using microprocessors. Then during the second half of the course, students break into teams which must conceive, develop, build and demonstrate a device. "Just go for it" is how Driscoll defines the overriding theme, but the devices that the students come up with must 1) detect something in the real world, 2) process the information, and 3) control something in the real world. About half of the projects use embedded microprocessors, while some use PC-scale computers, and some aren't computer-based at all.

"The class doesn't generally demand 'slick' engineering design and construction," Driscoll told This Week @UCSD's Paul Mueller. "Given the five-week time frame, it's more the excitement of trial-and-error. Actually, this seems to be how students learn best, and some projects actually are slick."

 Puneet Khattar
   ECE senior Puneet Khattar
  with his 'line following' car
 
For his solo project, electrical engineering senior Puneet Khattar created a model electric car capable of following a taped line on the road, using a closed-circuit camera mounted on the front. "The fanciest feature in the programming was an adaptive threshold for finding the tape in different lighting conditions and ground/tape color combinations," said Khattar. "Following the line itself was simply a matter of determining where the line was in relation to the center of the car and pointing the wheels in that direction - a simple proportional control algorithm." [To see the car in action, click on video box above.]
 
Nick Comfoltey, who is a double major in electrical engineering and physics, teamed with physics senior Constantine Karastamatis to build a laser-based rangefinder. It measures the phase-shift of an amplitude modulation at one-billionth of a second per foot.

Students voted for the best project, and three entries tied for first place. Those projects included a balancing broomstick, a magnetic levitation device, and a helium blimp piloted via a wireless Internet connection. Driscoll said that the class was "off scale" in terms of effort and success on all projects, as well as on how well the students worked together. "I am always impressed by the level of cooperation which permeates the class," he said. "We see students sharing time, designs, and even precious parts. If there is a competition here, it is truly friendly, and I see physics and engineering as one linked endeavor."

"In the days before the final presentation, students including myself would occasionally take a tour of other projects, where we were treated to an explanation of the team's recent successes and failures," said Daniel Wang. "These occurrences were a typical display of the camaraderie exhibited in the class." 

(For more on the course and the winning projects, read This Week @UCSD's coverage of the event at http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/thisweek/2005/mar/03_21_physics.asp.)

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