At the end of my sophomore year, I began thinking of possible fields that I was interested in, and one of them was alternative energies. So, scheduling for my fall 2011 semester, I was looking for classes that would let me explore this option. Luckily, this class happened to be offered for the first time, and I was was fortunate enough to take it.
In the class, we started learning about energy in general, then went on to solar energy in specific, and then moved on to learning about batteries, inverters, and the other components involved with a charging station. Throughout the semester, the homework assignments focused on these areas and wasn’t busy work. It wasn’t just “read from the textbook” (which was optional) and answer these questions, but rather “Read this information. Got it? Ok. Now how do you use what you just learned to solve this real-world problem?” An example is that we had to read an article about LED light bulbs and then show whether or not an LED light bulb is more efficient and cost effective to use instead of current ones. This thought process was meant to get us into the mindset of designing a solar charging station for electric cars.
With the station, we worked in groups of 5 to completely design the stations from the ground up. We had to select solar panels that met power consumption needs of the electric cars used by USC, find optimal locations on campus to put the solar panels and charging stations, and select the batteries, inverter, and charge controller. Oh yeah, and we had to make sure that it was as cheap as possible and the components would not need to be frequently replaced. How’s that for an actual engineering problem? If that wasn’t cool enough, at the end of the semester we actually built and tested one of the designs from class!
As you may have deduced, the reason why this was one of the coolest classes I’ve taken is that you get to do an entire engineering project form start to finish: theory, design, and construction. This was not only the perfect class for me but also an invaluable experience in how engineering is done in the real world. In fact, this is what inspired me to do the Catalina project that I talked about briefly in this post.