Innovation in Education – Fusing Simulations with Theory and Experiments

We all remember lab experiments during our college days. You set up the experiment as per the lab manual, follow the process and report the results. That’s it! You are expected to learn physical phenomenon through the experimentation, and in some labs, you may have one or two instructors who explain the theory behind the experiment. Nowadays, with the advent of simulation technology that can duplicate real life problems, lab instruction is changing from old school to new school. Mr. Chris Semanson of University of Michigan – Dearborn, who teaches Electromagnetic Compatibility lab to undergraduate students, is adopting a new way of instructing lab experiments. With the encouragement of his mentor Professor Mark Steffka, Adjunct Professor at U of M – Dearborn and the Global EMC Group Leader at General Motors, Chris introduced an innovative teaching method that combines electromagnetic simulations followed by theory (yes, real mathematics!) and experiment to prove the concept.

During the last week of September, I had an opportunity to meet Chris during the visit to EMC lab and discuss his plans for implementing this innovative education process.

EMC lab at University of Michigan – Dearborn. Instructor Chris Semanson explaining EM simulation of a loop to the students.

EMC lab at University of Michigan – Dearborn. Instructor Chris Semanson explaining EM simulation of a loop to the students.

Experimental set up for coupling between loops of different sizes. In a simplified way this explains the new application of Wireless Power Transfer (WPT), increasingly becoming popular for mobile devices, electric vehicles.

Experimental set up for coupling between loops of different sizes. In a simplified way this explains the new application of Wireless Power Transfer (WPT), increasingly becoming popular for mobile devices, electric vehicles.

Chris formulated the following experiments for the EMC lab:

  • Introduction to Signal Spectra/Antennas
  • Induction and Mutual Inductance
  • Characteristics of Crosstalk
  • Careful measurement technique
  • Inductance in the return path

The common thread between each of these experiments is that they are all physical experiments that ask the students to relate the electromagnetic field they are interacting with and to perform voltage or frequency strength measurement by using a near field probe. Of course, this requires imagination on the student’s part to visualize the complexity of the electromagnetic field make up. Even though we bolster these experiments with various web-resources (such as YouTube videos), they tend to lack the same interactive feel that the laboratory experiments provide due to its difficulty to instill.

As a result, Chris has chosen to add another learning dimension to the lab by using electromagnetic modeling/simulation software, FEKO, which allows students to interact with the simulation. Students spend a week doing the “physical” labs, learning about theory, experimenting and discovering the physics of electromagnetic fields. Students will then move on to complete their lab reports the following week where they will be able to use electromagnetic modeling/simulation to provide deeper insights and understanding of the “physical” labs. This is done by introducing a number of lab projects that are specifically designed to be completed using the modeling/simulation techniques they will be using. Simulations that mirror the existing lab experiments are:

  • Modeling basic antenna structures and fields (log periodic dipole, biconical, etc.).
  • Modeling loop antennas, magnetic fields and mutual inductance.
  • Modeling Crosstalk Characteristics of a twisted wire pair and Coaxial Cable.
  • Shielded enclosures.
  • Experimenting with geometric effects on inductance in the return path.

The goal of this proposed simulation is to amplify the learning effect that the original five experiments have, and allow students to visualize the fields they’re measuring.

Chris is excited that the combination of new physical experiments and the modeling/simulation experience will provide the opportunity for students to interact with parameters that affect the creation of various types of electromagnetic fields, not just responding to what exists already. By using simulations like the one of a dipole antenna below, the students get the ability to create, analyze, and understand electromagnetic fields and their effects on physical devices and circuits. I strongly believe that this will provide a valuable undergraduate learning experience!

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I am sure this innovative education process that Chris is implementing will be of use to many EMC and antenna lab instructors globally. Are you interested in incorporating this new approach in your teaching? Feel free to contact Chris at csemanso@umich.edu for any additional information or suggestions, or visit altairuniversity.com for more resources and materials dedicated to students and instructors.

Another useful resource for students to practice extended exercises is the book on antennas “Antennas Analysis and Design Using FEKO Electromagnetic Simulation Software, by Atef Elsherbeni, Payam Nayeri, C.J. Reddy, SciTech Publishing (an imprint of IET), June 2014.

C.J. Reddy

C.J. Reddy

Vice President - Electromagnetics Business Development at Altair
Dr. Reddy is the Vice President of Business Development - Electromagnetics at Altair where he leads the marketing and support of commercial 3D electromagnetic software, FEKO, in Americas. He is also the President of Applied EM Inc, a small company specializing in computational electromagnetics, antenna design and development. Prior to Altair, he was a research associate at NASA Langley Research Center, and previously a research fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. Dr. Reddy co-authored the book, “Antenna Analysis and Design Using FEKO Electromagnetic Simulation Software,” published in June 2014 by SciTech Publishing. He received his Ph.D. in 1988 in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India.
C.J. Reddy
C.J. Reddy

About C.J. Reddy

Dr. Reddy is the Vice President of Business Development – Electromagnetics at Altair where he leads the marketing and support of commercial 3D electromagnetic software, FEKO, in Americas. He is also the President of Applied EM Inc, a small company specializing in computational electromagnetics, antenna design and development. Prior to Altair, he was a research associate at NASA Langley Research Center, and previously a research fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. Dr. Reddy co-authored the book, “Antenna Analysis and Design Using FEKO Electromagnetic Simulation Software,” published in June 2014 by SciTech Publishing. He received his Ph.D. in 1988 in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India.