Name: Matthew Belz
Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavor
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
Researched, negotiated pricing, and purchased electrical test equipment for electronics lab. This lab was used to design and build a battery test system used to test LiFePO4 cells. This battery analysis device rapidly determines the state of health of battery cells.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Completing the STEP project has greatly increased my connectivity to the university and led me towards an area for my Ph.D. I enjoyed working on an independent research project and was able to learn so much by myself.
I assumed that I could finish the battery tester just over the summer and that turned out to be overly ambitious. I learned that real research takes longer than expected especially when you are forging a path where you learn as you go. I also learned that while the OSU ECE department teaches a great deal, students have huge gaps in practical knowledge. I learned skills taught in the 5000 level classes by myself and built a project to reinforce this knowledge. Things like SPI, I2C, PCB design, advanced soldering techniques are not taught in our curriculum but, are essential concepts for a student in electrical engineering. The STEP project has been a stepping stone that has propelled me into a summer internship and research position. I think it’s important to be able to invest in your assets and skills as an EE and the STEP program has allowed me to do this by being able to work on this project over the summer and be fully immersed in it. It is a unique experience to have your own research funding at an R1 university and be able to take a research project wherever you want to take it!
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
There are two main parts to my STEP experience. First I researched and purchased equipment for my laboratory which will serve me for years to come. Second, I designed and built a battery testing system used to test LiFePO4 batteries, the same batteries used by OSU Buckeye Current.
Phase 1: Lab-Equipment
I spent months reading technical specifications and looking for deals on equipment. I developed a very well rounded set of equipment and I can now test and characterize most any circuit except for very high-frequency RF circuits. This was by design because RF equipment is very specialized and also usually is in the hundred-thousand-dollar range. My lab consists of an Agilent DSOX-2014 oscilloscope, Rigol DP832 triple output power supply, Rigol DG1022 Function Generator, Hot-Air rework station for SMT soldering, Saleae Logic 8 Logic Analyzer for decoding digital communications such as SPI, I2C, etc., and Agilent 34401A 6.5 Digit multimeter, ESD mat, and a 1-year license for Altium Designer 17 for schematic and PCB design. This array of equipment has been thoroughly used to develop the battery tester in part 2 of my project.
Phase 2: Battery Analysis Device
The design of the battery tester is fairly complex. To understand the area better, I was added as a guest to Dr. Canova’s graduate level class ME 7383 which gives an overview to batteries in regards to chemical composition, thermal properties, SOC modeling using advanced mathematical models and experimental testing. Collaborating with Dr. Canova, we developed a testing methodology which can be expanded to a number of cells for rapid state-of-health determination.
Since I was only in the introductory ECE classes yet I was faced with an advanced design task using skills that are normally taught in a 5000 level class. To be able to design this, I read industry articles extensively in the areas that I needed to learn about. I also watched hours and hours of videos from circuit legends. I designed small parts of the circuit and then learned how to simulate these blocks in a design software called LTSPICE. This allows for a close approximation of how the circuit will perform based on parameters of the actual parts. However, I learned quickly that the non-idealities that are associated with real parts and real wires can produce great effects. The current sink was very elegantly designed in LTSPICE with good transient performance for fast switching times and no ringing. When I bought the parts and tried it, the result was totally off! So another way I learned was through trial and error and experience from what went wrong. The key in analog circuit design is to learn from your mistakes. What makes a senior analog designer good is their long list of failed designs. If they are any good, they learned from all of these design flops.
A Printed Circuit Board (PCB) is essential to high-performance circuits. I designed this in Altium Designer and it was kindly produced via Advanced Circuits. A huge thanks to Advanced Circuits at 4pcb.com for making this possible!
I generally got through most of the technical challenges with time but sometimes got stuck and I knew I needed outside help. I was quite resourceful in this, calling application engineers that make the IC (paid to answer questions from other engineers that are scratching their head!) and reaching out to faculty like Dr. Bibyk at OSU.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
My STEP project has propelled my academic and industrial career. This project as discussed has greatly increased my technical aptitude and has been a springboard to make connections here at the university. I am now working on research at the university related to what I studied doing my STEP project. I am hopeful that this will lead to a Ph.D. in high-performance analog circuits and to become a professor at a research university like Ohio State. I have made good friendships as a result of STEP and am very thankful to have received the grant and to be included in the program.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank STEP and Advanced Circuits for contributing to this project. I would also like to thank my advisors Dr. Sandra Metzler, Dr. Steve Bibyk, and Dr. Marcello Canova for their help with the technical aspects of this project.