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Junior: Winter Break

posted Dec 23, 2013, 9:28 PM by Sean M. Messenger   [ updated Dec 30, 2013, 5:50 PM ]
I just got home for winter break (Friday, 22 December 2013)! This past semester was busy, but it felt like a much lighter academic work load than past semesters. I was much more involved in research and had more responsibilities outside of the classroom.


Here are the courses I just wrapped up (rounding out to 20.5 credits):
  • Continuum Mechanics (ENGR 083)
  • Electronic and Magnetic Circuits and Devices (ENGR 084)
  • Advanced Systems Engineering (ENGR 101)
  • Engineering Clinic (ENGR 111)
  • Engineering Seminar (ENGR 121)
  • Microprocessor-Based Systems: Design and Applications (ENGR 155)
  • Advanced Problems in Engineering (ENGR 191)
  • Computer Science Colloquium (CS 195)
  • Accounting for Decision Making (ECON 086)
Continuum Mechanics was with Professor Cardenas. It was her first time (at least in a while) teaching the course and there were only 8 students in it. Taylor, Chris Hirlinger, and I from our E80 team had several "doh!" reactions when we were learning new material. Some of it would have been very helpful to have known for our E80 project. Such as what stress and strain actually is and how to measure them. We oriented strain gages at 90 degrees from eachother and in pairs -- we should have used strain rosettes with each sensor offset by 60 (or 45) degrees. That's one example. Oh well, keep learning! Course topics were an extension of Physics: Mechanics, and included forces in trusses, deflection, moments, fluid velocity profiles, fluid pressure on submerged objects, and fluid effects on pipes/containing members.

E84 actually turned out to be my least favorite course of the semester. The homeworks seemed long and often unrelated to the lectures, despite the lecture material being very applicable. We learned about Kirchoff's Current/Voltage Laws, Thevenin/Norton equivalent circuits, modeling circuit elements as complex resistances, filters implemented in hardware, transistors, diodes, Laplace transform circuit analysis, and multi-phase power systems.

In Advanced Systems Engineering, we learned to analyze continuous and discrete time-domain models of linear time invariant systems. This expanded upon E59's frequency domain consideration for signals, impulse response functions, and complex exponential expression in the frequency domain of sinusoidal time signals (or vice versa). We used convolution extensively and modeled mass-spring-damper systems. Further topics included frequency response functions, system transfer functions, s-domain, Z-domain, and special emphasis on Butterworth filters. In summary, we did some very cool mathy things (using imaginary numbers) with signals. 

I was on the first semester of a year-long clinic project working for Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). My team consisted of another engineer and two physicists. Our project was to design, build, and test a method for characterizing and calibrating an antineutrino detector LLNL uses. LLNL hopes to deploy cells of these detectors near nuclear reactors to investigate a potential discrepancy in expected neutrino counts and actual ones. Long story short, it's a really cool end use and a very involved project on our end. Our LLNL liaisons were very supportive, the team was awesome, and our advisor super helpful.

E155 was an extension and upper level version of E85, which I took in my third semester. I soldered every component onto our printed circuit board, including a PIC microprocessor, field programmable gate array (FPGA) chip, and much more, as shown in the picture below. There was no homework in this class, and all work was in the form of weekly labs that extended the functionality of our board. Some labs involved interfacing USB mouses, displaying something on a monitor (using VGA), and debouncing mechanical switch input from a keypad.

ECON 86 was my humanity for the semester. The course went into accounting for firms. This included a review of debits/credits, bookkeeping principles, investing strategies, employee compensation, and more. I was in a group that did a final project researching Eli Lilly & Company.

Colloquium and seminar were courses that had weekly guest lectures (or other activities) sponsored by the CS and engineering departments, respectively.


This was my first semester as Associate Head Shop Proctor (AHSP). Taylor Peterson (the other AHSP) and I worked with James Best (HSP), Jason Bluhm (HSP), Paul Stovall (Shop Manager), Prof. Gokli (E4 Instructor), and Prof. Spjut (Clinic Director) to organize the staffing and efficient operation of the college's machine shop. Taylor and I took responsibility for beginning 5S methodology in the shop to better organize materials and equipment, improve safety, and overall create a better working environment. This involved clearing everything out of the shop and making a place for all the tools that returned. Floors were marked with walkways, pegboard was hung up, and a new tool checkout system was implemented. 

Taylor and I made extensive efforts to get feedback on the changes (since apparently people are generally against anything that changes what their used to). We gave presentations to the shop proctors about why we thought all the individual changes were justified and took (and implemented) suggestions from these discussions. We also organized an open shop meeting for any student on campus to voice concerns or suggestions in person. These were hosted once a month at a generally convenient time, though no one ever showed up. I consider that a good thing. We supported it with an online form that people (proctors, E4 students, faculty, or anyone else) could comment on the changes or current status of the shop. That also received no submissions. Proctors ended up being the most vocal and we loved the ideas that came out of our discussions with them. The shop is staying much more clean than it has been in the past, and we are continually improving.


I tutored students taking E59: Signals and Systems Engineering. Every Mudder is required to take E59 as part of the Common Core, and most do so the first semester of their sophomore year. Tutoring was generally done once a week by a group of 8 engineering tutors through Academic Excellence (AE). AE has tutors for every course in the Common Core.


I continued research in Prof. Chris Clark's LAIR during the semester. I moved from doing Lava Tube Exploration research to working with Dexter Scobee and Adam Wiktor (Princeton '12). They wanted to formalize their Bachelor's thesis and publish it in a journal or at a conference. After working with Chris, Adam, and Dexter for the past semester, it looks like we are nearing a final draft to submit to IROS 2014! My role has been coding the new/revised algorithm in C# and testing it extensively in simulation and hardware.


I was invited to attend the Harvey Mudd College Trustee Retreat at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday November 1-3, 2013. This is an annual retreat that brings the trustees and some students, some faculty, and some alumni together. The retreat is designed to familiarize the trustees with current issues on campus by meeting with members of the HMC community. The focus for "Saddle Rock," as the retreat is called (due to historical reasons), was the current campus campaign for fundraising. Other students that attended were our student body president and a mix of research/active students in the community. It turned out that most every student attendee helped out, contributed, or gave a presentation of their own for some special topic.

The rough schedule for the event was as follows. The retreat began for students Friday evening with a reception and formal dinner with trustees, faculty, and alumni. Saturday was very busy with many presentations and discussions. Sunday we left after having breakfast. All students were housed on the Ranch at a nightly charge per person of roughly $250, covered by the school. The ranch was very nice. Some students (myself included) went lawn bowling (in an epically unsklled manner) with Thyra Briggs, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid and Tim Hussey, Assistant Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

I was asked to present my summer research experience as an insight to what research is now on campus and how important it is to the community. I worked with Professor Orwin on this presentation, and we split the time roughly 50/50. She gave an overview of student research and I talked in detail about how it was important to me.

It turned out to be a great opportunity to meet and chat with trustees (read: network), learn about the college's history, and play a role in driving the future path of the college. The trustees were very welcoming and genuinely interested in the students' perspectives. Friday and Saturday nights the students (about 10 of us) went and got in the hot tub after all the guests left. We talked for over an hour about what we learned, who we met, and overall how awesome the trustees are.


My courses for next semester, coming in at 20.5 credits, are:
  • Advanced Systems Engineering II (E102)
  • Advanced Problems in Engineering (ENGR 191)
  • Engineering Seminar (E122)
  • Computer Systems (CS 105)
  • Software Development (CS 121)
  • Computer Science Colloquium (CS 195)
  • Discrete Mathematics (MATH 55)
  • Classical Mythology (CLAS 121)
  • Organizational Behavior (ORST 135)

Merry Christmas from Case Dorm (and Santa Yong)!