Generating improved power labs

For researchers and students interested in power and energy, the photovoltaic array atop the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building is perhaps the department’s most visibly different space from the facilities in Everitt Laboratory. But it isn’t the only one.

ECE ILLINOIS is enhancing the power and energy lab experience. The power area’s instructional lab, the Grainger Electrical Machinery Laboratory, recently received an upgrade, providing undergraduate students with better equipment.

The Advanced Power Applications Laboratory will give graduate researchers direct access to the building’s solar panels, offering them chances for hands-on renewable energy research. And a new lab will join them: the Design Annex, a space where undergraduate students can perform research and work on projects that emphasize power and energy.

Grainger Electrical Machinery Laboratory

The Grainger Electrical Machinery Laboratory is tied to specific senior-level courses, such as ECE 431, Electric Machinery, and ECE 469, Power Electronics Laboratory. Earlier this year, the lab upgraded its benches. The lab has new oscilloscopes, power sources, and meters, and each bench has a coupled motor-generator for motor and generator experiments.

Now, that equipment has a new home in the ECE Building, where there is far more space for it. The size of the laboratory room itself is now larger, it has a dedicated service space for benches, and it is attached to an adjacent classroom. The lecture portion of laboratory courses can occur in the classroom, and the students can then walk directly into the lab.

Assistant Professor Robert Pilawa-Podgurski noted that, with the larger lab space, ECE ILLINOIS can accommodate more students interested in power and energy.

“Both the power electronics course and the laboratory have been over-subscribed the last two years,” Pilawa said. “So it’s exciting that now we can welcome a few more students each year that want to take it.”

Professor George Gross added that the lab is instrumental in helping students understand the applications of the concepts covered in class.

“In terms of teaching purposes, we have some of the best power labs in the world,” he said.

A photo of the Design Annex.

A photo of the Design Annex.

Advanced Power Applications Laboratory

In Everitt Laboratory, the research spaces for power and energy were dispersed across multiple rooms, making it difficult to operate.

“We’re unifying all the labs of the researchers into one integrated lab environment,” Gross said. “It’s going to be much better for interaction among and with the students.”

Taking advantage of the photovoltaic array atop the ECE Building, graduate student researchers in the Advanced Power Applications Laboratory will have direct access to the roof where the solar panels will be placed.

“The goal is to get the students to experiment with solar. A portion of the array will be directly hands-on,” Pilawa said.

Gross added that solar energy is perhaps the fastest-growing segment of renewable energy resources, and hands-on work with solar energy technology on a large scale is an invaluable experience for young researchers.

Design Annex

One of the ECE Building’s all-new lab spaces is the Design Annex. This new lab will offer undergraduate students a space for research and senior design projects that have a primary emphasis on power and energy.

“In the power and energy area, we have quite heavy undergraduate research involvement,” Pilawa said. “In Everitt, we struggled to accommodate this. But now we have a space for our undergraduate students doing design or project research.”

The new lab will provide the equipment that undergraduates need for their research and projects, as well as the support to use that equipment.

“We have a dedicated hardware engineer, Kevin Colravy, who manages a lot of the undergraduate research teams and provides lab support, to find all the right equipment students need to do their work safely,” Pilawa said.

Once the solar panels have been installed in the fall, students in all three of these lab spaces will look out the windows to the roof and the photovoltaic array – an example and symbol of what can be accomplished with state-of-the-art energy technology.

“It’s an exciting time for students who are interested in power and energy,” Pilawa said.

Low donation funds classroom wing

Though neither will be here to see the opening of the ECE Building, Frank and Irene Low were among the first to realize the impact a new facility would have on the department.

In 2001, they designated a $7 million estate gift to ECE with the intent of supporting a new building for the department. In honor of their incredible vision and generosity, the southwest wing of the building’s first floor will be named the Frank D. and Irene M. Low Classroom Wing.

The Frank D. and Irene M. Low Classroom Wing provides a key secondary entrance to the building on the Wright Street side. The wing is home to two 113-seat classrooms. Both classrooms feature a tiered design ideal for lectures, conferences, demonstrations, public seminars, and other events. Outside the classrooms, naturally-lit student seating is built into the hallway. Once the building’s landscaping is complete, the hallway’s grand windows will overlook the building’s native-plant garden. Thousands of students will pass through the wing every year, benefiting from the Lows’ gift to the department.

The Lows wanted their gift to aid construction projects, knowing that large-scale investments like the ECE Building would be a key to the department’s long-term success. Their donation expresses their dedication to ensuring a strong future for engineering students at Illinois. Frank, as a department alumnus, understood how important advanced facilities would be for ECE to maintain its position as a leading source of innovation and instruction in the field.

Frank Low, born November 14, 1912, earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Illinois in 1934. He grew up in St. Genevieve, Missouri, and Davenport, Iowa, where he graduated from high school. At Illinois, he was a member of the Beta Psi and the Pi Tau Pi Sigma societies. After graduation, Frank first worked for Sangamo Electric Cooperative in Springfield and then, starting in 1947, he spent the bulk of his career at General Electric as an engineer in the Hotpoint Appliance Division. He held 34 patents, mainly for electrical components of washing machines and dishwashers. He earned a place in GE’s Hall of Fame for his distinguished and successful career. Frank passed away December 26, 2001.

Irene Low, born October 11, 1912, grew up in Evanston, Illinois, attending Evanston High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University while participating in cheerleading and basketball.  After graduating, she earned a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Chicago. Dedicated to education, she spent part of her career as a teacher at the Illinois School for the Deaf and Blind. Irene joined the University of Illinois Presidents Council in 2002 and was a member at the Laureate Circle level. She passed away December 22, 2009.

This story was originally posted on the ECE ILLINOIS website.

Introducing the Open Projects Lab

The most successful engineers are driven by passion. This passion can be fueled by an engineer’s ability to pursue projects of his or her own choosing. Successful senior design projects and award-winning inventions make it clear that, given the chance to choose their own projects, ECE ILLINOIS students can achieve remarkable things.

In order to facilitate this student ingenuity, ECE ILLINOIS is introducing a new lab in the ECE Building: the Open Projects Lab.

“The Open Projects Lab will be an area where students can run their own projects that are not related to classes,” said ECE Professor Erhan Kudeki, who is coordinating with ECE student groups to determine how the lab will operate.

The lab will meet the needs of both short-term and long-term projects by having two sections. In the walk-in section, ECE students can stop by and use workstations with computers and measurement instruments. Students with longer-term projects can write proposals to use the long-term space, which a student jury will review.

Kudeki noted that since the lab isn’t tied to a specific course, students have the ability to pursue more risky and ambitious projects. They have access to the lab without having to worry about finishing their project by a specific deadline.

A rendering of the Open Projects Lab.

A rendering of the Open Projects Lab.

The lab will also serve as an ideal space for student events. Large-scale events and competitions, like ECE PULSE and HackIllinois, will use the lab as a space for students to prepare their projects. ECE student groups will be able to use the space to organize more frequent activities.

The Open Projects Lab will complement ECE’s other labs in their aims to encourage student creativity. The Srivastava Senior Design Lab provides a space for senior projects, and the final design challenge in the ECE 110 Lab is allowing for more student creativity. The Open Projects Lab takes this one step further, providing a space for independent and self-driven projects.

Kudeki said that he anticipates all sorts of projects being pursued in the open lab.

“This is a creative play space, and we’re hoping for an explosion of creativity,” he said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Interested in supporting this unique space and the students who will innovate here? Donors can make a difference with any sized gift. Opportunities ranging from in-kind gifts, to support for student projects, to room naming opportunities still exist. Contact Steve George, ECE senior director of advancement, at or (217) 244-8023 to learn more.

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