Letting the Music Do the Talking at U of M

For some of us who were undergrads in the days of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, our interest in music—tube amps!—lured us into electrical engineering. Of course, we would have been shocked if our professors had tapped into that interest and livened up our lab sessions.

Oh, how things have changed—for the better. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Alexander Ganago is using music to bring EE concepts to life.

Ganago is an adjunct professor of electrical engineering and computer science and also the instructional laboratories manager. In that latter role, he has designed hands-on experiments that engage students through their ears and eyes.

In the spectra lab, Fourier theory is brought to life by listening to simple periodic signals—sine, square and ramp—and observing the fundamentals and overtones. Next, students hear and see the spectra of flutes, pianos and other instruments. This lets them harmonize audible perceptions with objective measurements, combining EE theory with music appreciation. Time permitting, they can play their favorite music and observe it in the time and frequency domains.

In the filters lab, students solder up a circuit that can operate in one of four modes: low-pass, high-pass, band-pass or band-reject. After measuring the transfer function, they play a specific music clip through the filter and listen to the effect: bass guitar thumps through the low-pass; vocals sing through the band-pass, or are knocked out by the band-reject; and cymbals sizzle through the high-pass. Again, time permitting, they can plug in their own tunes and listen.

The sensory approach to EE theory has been so effective that the lab is showcased during tours for high-school students. Ganago believes the tie-in with music can also help generate interest in science and engineering among younger students.

All of this is enabled by a few basic instruments from Agilent: 34401 digital multimeters, 33220A function generators, E3631A power supplies and DSOX2012A oscilloscopes. The 100-MHz, two-channel scopes provide a time-domain view and, with built-in FFT capabilities, the associated frequency spectra.

I’ll bet the guitar solos in “Stairway to Heaven” and “Smoke on the Water” would look pretty cool on the screen of that scope.

To get more information on this article, please visit www.agilent.com/find/edumichigan

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