Disorder and Coherence: From Light Bulbs to Lasers
An Introduction to Electrical Engineering
“Essentially, engineers create order, while nature likes to create disorder,” states Professor Jasprit Singh, whose course Disorder and Coherence: From Light Bulbs to Lasers, dramatizes the engineer’s search to generate energy for today's world. The course capitalizes on the importance of developing sustainable and renewable energy technologies, so the connection to real world issues is immediate.
In the course of a semester, students work with a variety of concepts on an introductory level, including the functions of solar panels, quantum mechanics, microwaves, light emitting diodes and energy storage devices. Along the way, Singh instructs his students to think about these technologies in terms of infrastructure, feedback and energy. Professor Singh notes that this broad-based approach “draws students from a wide range of programs. It’s a course designed to open their minds to engineering practices.”
This broad approach is particularly useful for beginning engineers, notes freshman Asha D’Cunha: “Coming in as an undecided engineer is difficult. There are so many options. I’m glad I took this course because it has definitely pointed me in the right direction for what I want to do.” Though the concepts were admittedly advanced, Prof. Singh works to train his students not to be afraid of complex problems. "It’s all about losing the fear," he states.
Singh brings plenty of props for demonstration, noting that the students are very interested in actually feeling and looking at things, much more so than just listening to a theoretical discussion. A technical communication professor teaches the portion of the course devoted to documentation and research. This prepares students for the oral presentations, PowerPoint presentations, and visual diagramming required for the course.
The final units of the semester focus on social systems and the various energies made available by- or lost to natural phenomena. Students work in groups of five to identify and study an actual, localized energy need anywhere in the world. They develop, present and submit a 25-page proposal to the United Nations. Singh recalls a student project designed to address energy needs for an area devastated by flood. Students proposed the delivery of solar panels via cargo trucks, the energy from which would power schools, hospitals, dispensaries and labs, underscoring the capability for engineering to address humanitarian needs.