Thursday, September 20, 2012

DIY circuit boards & Cal Poly

This video from Make magazine shows you how to make your own printed circuit board using parts available from Jameco and other household items.  Neat!

As a Cal Poly undergrad, I took an Electronics Manufacturing class in the Industrial Manufacturing Engineering Department, a required course for electrical engineering majors.  The lab portion was more professionally equipped than this video but covered everything shown: CAD printed circuit board design, circuit board fabrication, and circuit assembly.  We also learned how to measure, cut, and bend metal sheeting to make housings for the final projects, typically a two-channel DC power supply. (I spray-painted mine purple.)

This video brings back memories of that class and how satisfying it was to design and build an electronics project from the design stage through the final product.  Some students hated it, probably because they had no prior experience soldering or handling power tools and really struggled, but I loved it!  In fact, I loved it so much I became a teaching assistant for the course for several quarters afterwards.

Cal Poly emphasized a lot of hands-on lab work, honoring the school motto: Discere Faciendo, or Learn by Doing.  My experience being a TA in electronics manufacturing gave me the confidence to dive into being a TA and lab assistant in grad school.  Unfortunately, a lab-heavy undergraduate curriculum can fall short on the academic and theoretical background required for graduate-level solid-state physics courses... which I later found myself woefully unprepared for.  Luckily, by the time you're a grad student, your GPA doesn't matter so much.  (Does it??)

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