Last weekend I participated in my first Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference. I attended the 2013 Region C Conference held in Dallas, TX. It was such a great experience. I kicked off the weekend with a tour of Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems’ Advanced Products Center (APC) and specifically the Microwave Automated Factory (MAF). In theory I knew some of the manufacturing process of boards, but seeing it in person is a whole new experience. We began the tour by donning long coats, hairnets, face masks, and safety glasses in addition to a thorough shoe cleaning. Next, we entered the factory and saw the assembly process including pick and place, reflow, epoxy, cleaning, gold wire bonding and more. Again, knowing the basics of the process is so different from looking under microscopes at each process and seeing the board grow. The tour left me even more excited about electrical engineering as a whole.
The next day, we were treated to a variety of speakers from companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Texas Instruments, Chevron, Hewlett Packard, Dell and the Navy. I also got to see more about the behind the scenes organization of SWE. That really inspired me to get more involved in my local chapter at school. There was also a nice job fair where I got to see some more opportunities for summer internships.
For Christmas this year I received a new soldering iron from Santa Claus! I picked out the soon to be discontinued Hakko FX-888 because I like the idea of an analog knob rather than a digital display. It’s a beauty and a joy to solder with. Sadly, school has picked back up and so I know I won’t have as much time to spend playing around on the tool bench. I’m taking solid state electronic devices and electromagnetic engineering this semester and they’re going to be tough! I’m really excited about gaining a solid understanding of semiconductors though. I’m searching for the perfect summer internship right now, so I’m definitely keeping busy. I have a resolution this year to spend more time with the blog so look out for some more entries about my projects on the way.
This month I started working with FPGAs in my digital circuits lab. We’re using the Basys2 Spartan-3E FPGA board for class, which we got to buy for ourselves. I was so excited when I got it. However, actually programming it was a little more complicated than I would have initially thought. The Xilinx ISE is an ENORMOUS program that took me a few tutorials and a little bit of time to figure out. Then there’s the simulation and the actual programming of the board. Whew! My very first project was an OR gate. Yep, I used a very powerful FPGA board to implement a single OR gate. Well, we all have to start somewhere. I now have a couple slightly more complicated circuits under my belt and can’t wait to get to some really neat stuff. Thankfully the lab steps us through increasingly complicated projects and I hope to be able to make some of my own projects by the end. We’re using Verilog rather than VHDL, but I hope to eventually get both of them down for versatility. I’ll keep you guys updated on some of the more interesting problems!
This summer, I read American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherman, a biography on J Robert Oppenheimer. For the most part, I really enjoyed the book. I loved the parts about his physics research and the Manhattan Project, but some of the chapters that delved into his political affiliations got a little tiresome.
I have read a number of other biographies on physicists and I wish there were better biographies on famous engineers. I know that this subject has been written about many times before, but I really lament the fact that there aren’t more engineering heroes. I’d love to know more about some of the “founding fathers” of modern electronics and computing. I’ve read a few books on the history of computing, but if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them in the comments!