Enhancing Undergraduate Education with Hands On projects at FREEDM

Most people associate FREEDM with our research projects and graduate students, but we also work closely with undergraduate students. The two phrases we often hear from these students are “I had no idea this was how it worked” and “That is so cool.” Here are a few ways that FREEDM is inspiring the next generation of engineers and researchers.

Zeljko Pantic, PhD and Associate Professor in ECE at NC State, is sponsoring two Senior Design projects, including one focused on wireless power

Sr. Design team with Dr. Pantic

transfer for recharging drones. Efficient energy transfer requires proper alignment of the emitting coil on the charging pad with the receiving coil on the drone. In addition, the system requires a method to hold the drone in place once alignment is complete. “I chose this project because extending the flight range of drones will allow new applications like long-distance delivery,” said Nick Voy, an NC State Senior in ECE and Team Lead. “Our greatest insight so far is how critical communication and planning are in the design phase of any engineering project.”

“Floatovoltaics” are solar panels designed to float on lakes or even ocean waters. The concept frees up land for other uses but faces multiple challenges. “I wanted the students to explore the edge cases of renewable energy application,” said Dr. Pantic. “I find those areas with the most constraints to be the most conducive to novel ideas.” The student teams for this project are evaluating mechanical design of the floating structure, methods to maintain optimal solar orientation and eventual use for the generated power. Dr. Pantic is mentoring two teams for this challenge led by Cole Griffith and Shafraz Rahman. “I really like that this project requires both mechanical design and electrical design,” said Cole. “So far, the biggest lesson I’ve learned,” said Shafraz, “is that there are always more challenges than you think, so planning and research are so important in the engineering process.” 

FREEDM is also sponsoring the NC State team for the DOE Solar District Cup (SDC) Collegiate Design competition. In this competition, multidisciplinary student teams design, model and optimize a solar plus storage system for a campus or urban district. SDC is managed by the National Renewable Energy Lab and provides the necessary tools and campus data for system design. But students must learn the software, evaluate options, review local regulations and zoning requirements, and consider other planning documents for their assigned use case. “I think this is a very practical competition for students that are interested in pursuing careers in renewable energy,” said Mesut Baran, PhD, Professor in ECE and Faculty Sponsor. “By the end, they should understand the full process of solar implementation.” The NC State team is also supported by Len White, PhD and Professor of the Practice in ECE, and Ken Dulaney, Director of Industry and Innovation at FREEDM. 

The FREEDM Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program hosted nine students during the summer of 2021, and has allowed nearly 200 undergraduate students to participate in research programs since it began in 2008.As an example, Luke Caplice, a second year student in ECE, is working with Wensong Yu, PhD and Research Associate Professor, on a novel method to measure switching losses for wide bandgap power electronics. “Frankly, I knew very little about device switching when I started,” said Luke. “But learning the fundamentals of WBG operation has helped me understand applications of the technology like electric vehicle chargers. The REU program has also helped me evaluate research as a career path.” 

If you want to learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at FREEDM, contact Terri Kallal (tlkallal@ncsu.edu) or Ken Dulaney (kadulane@ncsu.edu).