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New lab to train next generation of power engineers

A group of University of Tulsa electrical engineering students spent the summer unpacking and installing new equipment in Rayzor Hall that will change the way they learn about the power industry. After months of testing the devices and designing custom software, students and faculty debuted a modernized electric power laboratory that will boost TU’s nationwide visibility as a leader in electrical engineering.

Electricity flows through the system’s three-phase AC and DC electric motors, alternators and generators, demonstrating the intrinsic properties of each device before the numbers automatically are recorded and made available for analysis in a Microsoft Excel file.

“What used to take 20 hours now takes 20 minutes,” said senior Kyle Mann. “We can spend time understanding, analyzing and learning rather than writing everything down by hand.”

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Senior Daelen McClendon demonstrates how the Power Lab operates.

The new Power Lab eliminates tedious tasks of recording data while introducing students to what it takes to drive each kind of device by making manual connections for parameters such as field excitation current. Using additional transformers provides students with enhanced learning opportunities when it comes to three-phase systems. A new module enables students to study impact of changing transmission line parameters.

“We can measure the high side of a transformer, see the changes in current and monitor voltage and transmission loss in real time,” said senior Daelen McClendon.

The dated equipment previously used to measure torque resembled a kitchen scale, but the new Power Lab is sleek, digital, accurate and powerful. Faculty in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have developed a Power Lab course and two additional lab opportunities based on this equipment and software.

“It’s a remarkable step up for us, and I’m very proud of the students’ efforts,” said Douglas Jussaume, applied associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

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Applied Associate Professor Douglas Jussaume, senior Kyle Mann, Professor Kaveh Ashenayi, donor Andy MacKay and senior Daelen McClendon debut the TU Power Lab.

The system was made possible through a generous financial contribution from longtime friends of the university, Andy and Helen MacKay. Andy MacKay is cofounder and president of Maccor, Inc., and Unicorp Systems, Inc., Tulsa-based companies specializing in sophisticated battery test systems and aircraft equipment repair.

“I’m impressed with the Power Lab,” MacKay said while visiting students in Rayzor Hall. “When you see results like this, it’s a reminder that what you can do with your donation is remarkable.”

Mann, McClendon and other students such as Alden Coleman, have taken a special interest in power engineering. They view the field and TU’s Power Lab as an opportunity to join an evolving industry where skilled engineers are needed, salaries are high and the technology is sustainable.

“It’s a perceived crisis that the current generation of power engineers will retire in the next five years,” Mann said.

An aging workforce will open the door to Mann and his classmates. Although today’s students don’t view power engineering with the same appeal as other careers, Mann said the field is growing.

“It includes transmission line design, power distribution, renewable source, cost optimization, load balancing, providing reliable back-up power and smart grid systems. There’s a variety of things you get to do with a high starting salary of around $80,000,” he said.