Mathematics and Computer Science Department
University of Wisconsin-Superior
Swenson Hall 3030
Belknap and Catlin
P.O. Box 2000
Superior, WI 54880
Mathematics and Computer Science Department
News and Events Details
The class project seems simple enough: Design and build a device like a timer, metronome or electronic game.
But for students working with Dr. Serguei Bezroukov in Computer Science 381 - Special Projects, the seemingly simple project becomes a detailed and challenging look into the "embedded systems" that run everything from digital watches to nuclear power plants.
"The most interesting thing about the course is that it teaches you not only how to program these devices, it teaches you how to create an entire project based on these devices," said Brentton Paulus, a computer science major from Superior and one of four students enrolled in the course.
More robotics and micro-controllers
The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science offers the course each fall. It's part of the department's push to offer students more knowledge of embedded systems, robotics, micro-controllers and other uses of computer hardware and software, said Dr. Shaun Lynch, department chair.
Students enrolled in the course benefit from the department's location in Swenson Hall. The new building includes a specialized hardware lab, dedicated servers that are isolated from the university computer system, and an applications computer lab that uses professional-grade double monitors so students can view their work and digital documents at the same time.
Creating a system
In CSCI 381, Bezroukov guides the students as they combine hardware and software to create a system that performs a function.
Working individually or in a group, the students start by designing their own "board" -- creating a schematic drawing with the most efficient placement of components on a circuit board. They use a computer program that traces their schematic onto a blank copper circuit board. The drawing is chemically etched onto the board, and Bezroukov completes it by soldering the components onto the boards.
In addition to designing and building the board, the students use their programming skills to create a functioning device.
"They learn how to design a system from beginning to end - laying it out on the board, how to program it, and to put it all together," Bezroukov said.
Small scale, large scale
The students are working on a small scale, but concepts they're learning can be applied to a dizzying array of uses.
An embedded system is a computer system designed for specific control functions within a larger system. They are widely used today in everything ranging from portable devices such as temperature controls and prosthetics to stationary installations like traffic lights, factory controllers or the systems controlling nuclear power plants.
The course covers a wide range of information. Paulus is creating a digital alarm clock with an LCD screen and helping on a laser-phone project. He reeled off the topics covered in class, including computer architecture, programming languages, how to control LCD screens, sound properties, and converting audio from analog to digital
Skills to complete the project
"I would say that it is a challenging course," he said, "but Dr. Bezroukov makes sure that we know what is going on and that we know what we need to look up to learn the skills we need to complete our project."
Adam Chevalier, a computer science major from Superior, took the course three years ago and described it as "very enlightening" and helpful in courses he took later. "Working individually and in small groups was a good experience, and it was a good challenge to work with such limited resources," he said, referring to the tiny 2 kilobyte chip he needed to use to run his project.
The best sign of the course's effectiveness may be that some students enroll twice - the second time for fun and the challenge of working on a new project.
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