A multidisciplinary group of engineering professors has introduced students to one of the century's most promising design achievements, while engineering professor Roger Haggard has implemented the latest technology to help distance education students have the best experiences. Both efforts earned these campus leaders this year's Leighton E. Sissom Innovation and Creativity Award.
The engineering professors -- Joe Biernacki (chemical), Glenn Cunningham (mechanical), Jeff Frolik and Satish Mahajan (electrical and computer) -- spearheaded the creation of a campus laboratory to study micro-electro-mechanical systems or MEMS. MEMS research has revolutionized the scale of manufacturing, with the development of devices ranging from only a few microns (one millionth of a meter) to a centimeter in size.
With diverse industry applications, including ink jet printers, air bag sensors and vaccine delivery systems, the MEMS industry generates $2 billion a year, with projections for $6.5 billion by 2004.
Responding to the increased demand for graduating engineers experienced with this technology, the MEMS group developed coursework, research and a seminar series to provide a well-rounded education for students. The group also has cultivated working relationships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Louisville's Lutz
Microfabrication Laboratory and arranged Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education internships for TTU students.
"These faculty members have created a dynamic interdisciplinary atmosphere among students in a rapidly growing area of engineering," said Dale Wilson, TTU mechanical engineering chairperson.
With a different type of initiative, Haggard has found a way to save time, money and effort in distance education engineering classes. By using streaming video, the associate professor of electrical and computer engineering eliminated many of the inconveniences of teaching off-campus students.
Streaming video solves quality and timeliness issues presented by the traditional distance teaching method of mailing videotapes to students. Off-campus students lag behind as many as two days because of mail time, notes and illustrations can be difficult to see, and it's expensive to produce and mail tapes.
Streaming video works by downloading only pieces of digital audio or video information at a time. A student can watch the beginning of a video file on his or her computer as a later segment of that same video is being downloaded. Distance students can view classes a few hours after they've taken place on campus. Streaming video allows for a split screen, enabling the professor to write on a board, present slides, web pages or demonstrations with visual clarity.
"This not only allows distance education students to stay on the same pace with on-campus students, it also makes the distance education students feel like they are part of the class," said electrical engineering graduate student Brad Matthews, who has taken one of Haggard's online courses. "This method of teaching should be the future standard."
In addition to rapid access with better quality, the concept is also relatively inexpensive to implement, Haggard said. The cost for his entire project, for example, was only around $1,200.
The annual award was established to honor Leighton E. Sissom, former dean of TTU's College of Engineering. The award recognizes scholarship, methodology, invention, technique and other contributions within the college. The 2001 recipient was Ken Hunter Sr.