Rewiring the ECE 110 lab

The fundamentals of electrical and computer engineering, from simple circuit elements to complex systems, are taught in a class required of all ECE graduates: ECE 110, Introduction to Electronics.

During the lecture portion of the class, students are taught a working knowledge of analog circuits. But in the lab, students put those concepts into practice. The lab, previously housed in Everitt Lab 146, has served as the department’s hands-on introduction to electrical and computer engineering for decades. This fall, the lab will find a new home in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building.

Visitors using the ECE Building’s main east entrance on the will step into the main lobby. Through the glass on the lobby’s north side, they’ll see freshman students hard at work in the new ECE 110 Lab, twice the size as the previous lab space in Everitt. The students will prepare their own unique projects for the class’s final design challenge.

“To get the students more engaged in the design process, we are making the design challenge less scripted,” said Patricia Franke, the ECE 110 lab director. In the past, the final design challenge was the same for all students: create a robotic car that follows a path full of twists and turns. In recent years, the lab has been pushing for more creativity from students, who are driven by their own pursuits and interests in their final designs.

The new ECE 110 lab space in the ECE Building.

The new ECE 110 lab space in the ECE Building.

These developments are coming into fruition as the lab enters the ECE Building. The new lab space has adjoining rooms that will be used for demonstrations, office hours, extra-curricular projects, and parts storage. This new storage capacity allows for new equipment for students to use in their designs.

Students will now use a kit of parts designed for flexibility in the choice of their final project goals. The kit includes many different types of sensors, motors, and drive circuitry, as well as a single-board microcontroller, allowing students to program more advanced projects.

“We want each lab period to consist of some pre-written procedures to support the lecture and their march towards the final design,” Frank said. “But we also want unstructured experimentation. So we’re instituting the policy that students have to stay for the whole three scheduled hours.”

Learning and experimentation can continue at home, since each student will have his or her own kit.

“We’re trying to encourage them to play,” she said.

Already, in the experimental lab groups in which Franke has introduced the more open final challenge, students have designed impressive projects. One semester, a lab group built two vehicles that played laser tag. In another semester, a group of students built a car that drew a black line on a white piece of paper, and another car that followed that line.

With these changes, Franke hopes to encourage the students’ intrinsic motivations to design and create.

“Our aim is to give them a good foundation,” Franke said. “And a big part of that is that they enjoy the lab.”

Intel donation to provide undergrads a chance to work in groundbreaking nanofabrication lab

Nanofabrication is a popular concept in the tech industry right now, but the typical undergraduate student doesn’t have a chance to try it.

That’s about to change at ECE ILLINOIS.

Intel is donating three pieces of equipment that will form the basis of a lab space that will allow undergraduates to learn about the concept. It will be located in the new ECE Building’s nanofabrication laboratory.

“For students, using this equipment will expose them to research-level processes that most students never have the opportunity to explore until graduate school,” said Dane Joseph Sievers, an engineering teaching lab specialist at ECE.

The lab and its equipment will expand graduating students’ knowledge, and expose them to new and emerging processes and technologies that, until now, haven’t been available in any undergraduate lab Sievers knows about.

Intel Senior Fellow and ECE alumnus Mark Bohr (MSEE ’78) said Illinois has been a leader among academic institutions as it offers a microfabrication laboratory course for its undergraduates.

“This course gives students hands-on training and experience in some of the fabrication techniques used by integrated circuit companies like Intel to make microprocessor chips,” he said. “With an eye to the future, this new laboratory course for undergraduate students teaches nanofabrication techniques using dimensions about 1,000 times smaller than in the previous course.”

“Intel is a strong supporter of engineering education and believes that this new nanofabrication course will both prepare and interest students in some of the engineering challenges we’ll face over the next 40 years,” Bohr said. “I’m very pleased that Intel had the opportunity to play a part in setting up this new nanofabrication class.”

Burke Walls, a global college talent strategist within Intel’s College Center of Excellence, said the new building prominently features the importance of undergraduate education.

“Student interns and new college graduates face challenges here, and nothing has been done in school to prepare them,” he said. “The donation will go a long way. They can say, ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done similar things and it’s time to get ramped up on something new.’”

A rendering of the Nano Lab.

A rendering of the nanofabrication laboratory

The equipment will be used in the prominently featured lab space on the first floor of the new building, where windows will reveal students fabricating colloidal quantum dots, nanowires, non-ring oscillators, and carbon nanotube LEDs, using optoelectronics and plasmonics, on novel materials, like carbon nanotubes or grapheme, rather than just silicon.

The equipment includes a dual-beam focused ion beam, which is “like multiple tools in one,” because it has both an ion beam and an electron beam, Sievers said, and can be used for imaging, lithography, etching, and depositing materials.

Another donated piece of equipment will be a sputtering tool that allows students to deposit multiple types of materials that make up the different parts of the devices they’re fabricating. It offers the advantage of uniform coatings with different types of materials, Sievers said.

The third piece of equipment, a tool for di-electric deposition, will allow students to use plasma to deposit a variety of materials at much lower temperatures than using other methods. This will give them the flexibility to add new layers of materials without destroying underlying features.

ECE Professor Joseph W. Lyding said the lab will be “one of the most advanced teaching facilities ever devoted to undergraduate education.”

“The nanofabrication teaching laboratory will give our students a unique immersive perspective on how nanotechnology is changing our modern world,” he said.

For more information, please see the full story on the ECE ILLINOIS website.

Fredric G. Nearing Family Classroom will be a reflection of distinguished alum

This fall, students will take their seats in the Fredric G. Nearing Family Classroom, located in the south wing of the second floor of the ECE Building. The classroom is named in honor of Fred Nearing, a 1943 graduate of the department and veteran of electronic sales, who has given $500,000 for the building campaign.

“I’ve been lucky in my work career,” Nearing said, “and I found the harder I worked, the luckier I got.”

Supporting the ECE building project was a means of spreading some of that good fortune to students and faculty who are pushing the forefront of electrical and computer engineering. In 1997, Nearing and his late wife, Betty, also established the Fredric G. and Elizabeth H. Nearing Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

When Nearing was a student, Everitt Laboratory had not yet been built, and most of his departmental classes were taken in the electrical engineering laboratory and annex, bordering the Boneyard Creek, where the Bardeen Quad is located today.

Frederic Nearing (BSEE '43)

Frederic Nearing (BSEE ’43)

“There were a few buildings around,” Nearing said with a laugh. “My graduating class was, it seems to me, the low 40s—40 to 45.” Last year, more than 350 students graduated from ECE ILLINOIS with bachelor’s degrees.

After graduating from the university, Nearing worked for Western Electric, writing technical data for field engineers, including information about the radar bombing system of the B-29 aircraft. At the end of World War II, he was the third youngest of 650 field engineers.

“My guess is that they probably averaged 15 years experience each. Here I was right out of school,” he recalled.

In 1949, Nearing became a commissioned sales representative for Hewlett-Packard, then a 10-year-old company with 200 employees (they employ more than 300,000 today), and he later became the Midwestern sales manager for Hewlett-Packard.

Nearing and several other sales representatives from Hewlett-Packard banded together in 1972 and formed an independent sales company, Electronic Instruments Associates (later renamed Electronic Equipment, Inc.). He worked there until retiring in 1989.

The old electrical engineering buildings that Nearing took classes in were removed in the mid-1990s, at the time Grainger Library was completed. Now, with the opening of the new ECE building, a third generation of electrical and computer engineering structures will have been used since Nearing’s time as a student.

“Lots of changes,” Nearing said.

While some things have changed dramatically over the past 70 years, others are timeless. Like Nearing, the students who come through the department are diverse and talented, in engineering topics and beyond. Nearing was a gifted clarinetist in the Marching Illini and was the first chair concert clarinetist his final two years.

Even now, at 95, Nearing is active and energetic, doing his own gardening and yard work at his home in Barrington, Illinois. When others ask him how he stays so healthy he tells them about the salubrious effects of gardening, sure, but also of his alma mater.

“I say that I go down to Champaign six or eight times a year to try to keep my brain in shape,” Nearing said. “I think you’ll have to look far and long before you find anybody [my age] who can keep up with me.”

Nearing has served on the ECE and university alumni boards and also on several advisory boards. For his years of indefatigable support, he was honored with the Lou Liay Spirit Award at the 2012 homecoming, a university honor for a distinguished alumnus. The Frederic G. Nearing Family Classroom, too, is a testament to his unflagging spirit and commitment.

For more information, please see the full story on the ECE ILLINOIS website.

Introducing the ECE cafe: “Daily Byte”

Students threw their ideas into the ring to name the ECE building’s café. Out of the hundreds of creative ideas that poured in during the contest, a winner has emerged.

This fall, students and faculty will refresh themselves with a cup of coffee and a snack from Daily Byte.

The name “Daily Byte” is a creation of student Raj Vinjamuri, a junior in electrical engineering. Vinjamuri was inspired by the word “daily” encouraging frequent visits to the café and “byte” associating the café with information.

Vinjamuri, who participated in this year’s HackIllinois event and has previously been part of the Illinois Formula SAE team, decided to try his hand at naming the ECE café when he saw fliers for the contest posted around campus.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the ECE building and experience it a little bit more intimately now, since I only have one year to get out of it, as a junior. I’m excited,” Vinjamuri said.

For winning the contest, Vinjamuri earned a $100 gift card for the Illini Union Bookstore, which can be used at the Tech Zone.

Photo May 07, 3 31 52 PM edited

Raj Vinjamuri’s café name entry “Daily Byte” was announced as the contest winner at the May 7 ECESAC social.


Daily Byte will be centrally located beside the main lobby. And like the lobby, Daily Byte will be one of many new spaces in the ECE building where students can gather to socialize and relax. The café will include several tables and chairs, and there will be more seating available in the lobby for students who want to sit down with their beverages and snacks.

Beverages at Daily Byte will include espresso drinks, with other possibilities being considered. Of course, Daily Byte will also offer bites to eat, such as pastries, bagels, muffins, and fruit cups.

“Since the department is running the café, we can better adapt to what the students and faculty want,” said Jeannette Beck, assistant to the head of ECE.

To that end, the café plans to take input from student groups. Requests for new beverages and food items will be taken into consideration. Student creativity has given the ECE café its name, and student feedback will continue to play an integral role in the evolution of this new ECE social space, Daily Byte.

Students present scale model of ECE building at EOH

To showcase the new ECE building, three undergraduate students designed and constructed a model of the building to present at Engineering Open House 2014.

Built primarily from several kinds of wood and acrylic plastic sheets, the model is built to scale with 1 inch equaling 8 feet. Students, faculty, and visitors at EOH were impressed by the model, and the students who made it hope to display it in the ECE building this fall.

As an homage to ECE’s target of net-zero energy, the model is designed with built-to-scale solar panels on its roof and a larger solar panel on its side. Combined, they provide power to the lights, circuits, and microcontroller, the small computer that allows programming for the lights.

Because of the indoor lighting at EOH, batteries were required during the event. But the solar panels were wired to charge the batteries when the model was powered off.

“Net-zero energy is theoretically achievable in the model if it was powered off with the solar panels attached to the batteries for a long period of time,” said Thomas Navidi, a sophomore in electrical engineering.

Guillermo Acevedo (left) and Kavish Munjal (right) help Thomas Navidi present the model at EOH.

Guillermo Acevedo (left) and Kavish Munjal (right) help Thomas Navidi present the model at EOH.

Navidi came up with the idea of a net-zero energy model of the building in the fall, and construction began in January. Navidi’s main tasks were to design the circuits and lights and wire them between the microcontroller and the model.

He recruited Kavish Munjal, a sophomore in computer engineering, and Guillermo Acevedo, a sophomore in civil engineering, to help him. Munjal’s coding made it possible to use a remote to activate different sets of lights (including LED lights) on the model, and Acevedo helped read the ECE building plans, come up with the scale, and identify the proper materials for the model.

The team used balsa wood sheets and rods and clear acrylic plastic sheets to make most of the model, the sheets representing the building’s many windows. The wood pieces were colored with spray paint and attached with wood glue and super glue. A large piece of plywood functioned as the base, and glue was used to attach green carpet, walkways made from crushed rocks, scale model trees, bushes, and students and faculty members.

“Approximately 200 hours were contributed on the project by all team members,” Navidi said.

The model was well received at EOH and garnered attention to the ECE building’s features, particularly its solar panels and plans for energy sustainability.

“I heard a lot of positive feedback during EOH, and I am very proud to have worked on the model,” Navidi said. “Hopefully, it will see many more years on display.”

Save the dates for our opening celebration

It’s time to mark your calendars. To celebrate the opening of the new building, ECE ILLINOIS will host two events in the fall.

The Building Dedication will take place Friday, October 10. The ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. and will be followed with a reception. Building tours will be offered in the afternoon. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be streamed live on our building website.

We will host a Homecoming Open House on Saturday, October 25. Guests can take a tour of the building, attend a welcoming event with ECE alumni, faculty, and students, and enjoy the Illinois vs. Minnesota homecoming game.

Additional details will be added to this page as they become available.

Buy a Bit: Building Wish List

This fall, students, faculty, and staff will move into ECE ILLINOIS’ new home. Thanks to generous contributions from alumni and private donors, ECE students and faculty members will work and learn in an environment just for them. But along with the building itself, equipment and supplies will be key to making sure students have the resources to succeed.

The department welcomes you to explore a new way to do your bit: the Buy a Bit Wish List. Donors can provide students and faculty with the materials they need to design, learn, and teach. Items on the list range from $50 to $10,000.

“We wanted a fun way for all of our alumni, faculty, staff, and students to get involved in the project,” said Steve George, ECE ILLINOIS senior director of advancement. “It’s a way to look inside the project and see some of the items we need, and to see what some of the spaces are going to look like.”

Buy a Bit

The wish list has a wide range of items, from electronic equipment to furniture. Donors can provide students with supplies in the Open Projects Laboratory and clean room apparel for the Nano Laboratory. They can provide projectors for the auditorium, furniture for faculty offices, and chalkboards for classrooms. They can even help bring the department’s net-zero energy goal in reach by providing solar panels.

The wish list also includes furniture to outfit the Student Organizations Space, located right off the lobby and next to the café.

“The thousands of ECE alums who were part of ECESAC, IEEE, HKN, and WECE have an opportunity to directly support those groups by buying furniture for the student space,” George said.

While recognition will not be provided for individual items – the money donated is ultimately given to the overall campaign – all donors will be recognized on the campaign website, and at checkout they may share their purchases on social media to show their support for the department. Donations through the Buy a Bit Wish List will help ECE along the final stretch toward its building campaign funding goal.

New ECE auditorium will offer comfort, good visibility

For years, the Everitt 151 lecture room has been the location for ECE ILLINOIS’ large lectures and events. The new building’s auditorium will be a vast improvement over Everitt’s facilities, offering more seating, increased visibility, and a better environment to its guests.

The new building’s auditorium will seat up to 400 individuals, making it the largest auditorium on the engineering campus. Careful attention has been made to enhance the viewing experience from any of the seats. A slightly sloped floor will make it easier to see even in the back rows of the auditorium.

In order to remedy the need for visually obstructive pillars in an auditorium so spacious, the floors above the auditorium have been designed to require less support from the first floor. The second and third floors are suspended and supported from above, leaving the first-floor auditorium free from the burden of their weight.


The auditorium as of March 13, 2014. The grooves in the floor will become the air ducts for each seat. Click the photo to see more from a recent building tour.

Natural light will shine through windows on three sides of the auditorium. A high-tech shading system will facilitate better viewing of presentations using a triple projection system, which is capable of displaying images on three surfaces simultaneously in the auditorium. Air vents heat and cool at the foot of each seat, a system that will lead to both an improved student experience and increased energy efficiency.

Taking advantage of these advanced features, the students, alumni, and guests who visit the auditorium will find it to be an ideal location for ECE events of all kinds.

Construction time lapse through March 8, 2014


Here is a time-lapse video of the building progress from the start of construction to March 8, 2014.

Five new building features that have students talking

The new building will be home to faculty and students alike. The latter have mentioned five new features that they are especially excited to see. We spoke with Nikita Parikh, co-chair of ECESAC (ECE Student Advancement Committee); Tyler Hansen, freshman representative of ECESAC; Johnny Duan, sophomore representative of ECESAC; and Liana Nicklaus, president of HKN.

Energy-efficiency plan

One of the elements of the new building that students find most apparent and important is its energy-efficiency plan and net-zero goal. The students see these plans as representative of the accomplishments of the department.

“I think it’s absolutely fitting that the students and professors who have done significant work on energy-efficient electronics are able to see state-of-the-art technology in their field in action every day,” Duan said.

Several of the students highlighted the ethical necessity of pushing energy-efficiency, including Hansen.

“This building is a symbol for the university’s pursuit of a greener and more environmentally friendly atmosphere,” Hansen said. The students expressed their pride in their university for being at the cutting edge of energy-efficiency.

Proximity to ECE researchers

After learning that Champaign-Urbana MTD will help with transportation from across campus to the new building, the students expressed excitement for the new opportunities made possible by the ECE building’s location.

Duan noted that ECE’s new neighbors – the Beckman Institute, the Coordinated Science Laboratory, and the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory – are home to some of ECE’s critical research.

“I think the proximity to some of the world’s most prominent researchers is incredibly valuable,” Nicklaus said. “It will make it easier than ever for undergraduates to get involved in research, and form connections with professors and graduate students.”

Taken January 30th

A view of Beckman and CSL from a classroom on the third floor of the ECE building. Click the photo to see more from a recent building tour.

Student spaces

Currently, ECE student organizations have less-than-ideal spaces in Everitt Laboratory. Because of space restraints, they are scattered across the building in inconvenient and relatively small rooms. The new building will dedicate student organization spaces designed to improve student communication.

“Having a shared space next year will be a good change because it will let us interact more frequently and easily with members of other student groups,” Parikh said, as interaction is an important component to enhance the ECE student experience.

The student spaces will be located centrally in the building, adjacent to a café off the main lobby. In addition to this student organization space, students will have lounges and seating throughout the building where they can meet, relax, and study between classes.

Laboratory space

Laboratories provide students with essential opportunities for hands-on learning, and ECE understands the importance of those opportunities. The new building will house expanded and enhanced labs.

“I look forward to the increased lab space for projects and classes,” Hansen said. “Many of the lab facilities in Everitt Lab are cramped, and that makes it difficult to get enough lab time to complete projects efficiently.”

The labs in the new building will be conducive to student learning, and they will allow students to pursue both course-driven and independent projects. These labs include the ECE 110 Lab, the Nano Lab, Control Systems Lab, the Optics Advanced Systems Lab, the Srivastava Senior Design Lab, and the Open Projects Lab.

Auditoriums and spaces for ECE events

A vast improvement over the current auditorium in Everitt Laboratory, the auditorium in the new building will be larger and better structured – for example, it will be free of vision-obstructing pillars that can be found in the Everitt auditorium.

“The new auditorium will be large enough to comfortably host events,” Hansen said, from freshman welcome events to research presentations.

Additionally, other aspects of the building’s design – such as the grand entrance on its east side – will create further space for ECE to host events, Nicklaus said.

“One of the best aspects of ECE Illinois is the networking and professional opportunities brought to us by the department’s connections in the corporate world,” she said. “The new building will provide a great venue for alumni, recruiters, and students to interact.”