Camosun College Engineering Students Invent Next Generation Strobe Light at a Fraction of Commercial Cost

When Camosun Physics instructor Ed Nelson put out an extracurricular challenge to his class, he never imagined just how enthusiastically and successfully a group of his students would respond. He asked: “is there anyone who can build a new strobe light to replace the older model in the lab?” Three of his students – Rylen Enger, Miles Krakowec Tickner, and Joseph Letang – raised their hands and over the course of a full year, on their own initiative, designed an entirely new strobe light that matches, and in several respects improves upon, commercially available models at a fraction of the cost.

"They took this project on as extra work in their program and did all the design and testing on their own time," explains Nelson. "They had to learn to build it as they progressed."

The three electrical and computer engineering students didn’t know each other before the class or the project, and when they set out developing their own strobe light, they relied on each others’ skills, creativity and commitment to getting the job done.

"As soon as you start doing something like this, you’re going to hit a point where you’re not going to be able to find a reference so you’ve to figure out how to do it yourselves," says Krakowec Tickner. "Building this from scratch, there were no instructions telling us how to do it."

Their project is a perfect example of Camosun’s approach to experiential applied learning, with both lessons in the classroom and learning by doing helping the team improve their final design.

"The more we worked on this project, the more we learned in school and the more we could apply our school knowledge to the project," says Enger. "When we were taking the circuit design course we realised we could migrate this to an even newer model of printed circuit board, so we found that we kept advancing on what we’d made before."

As word got around about what the students were working on, instructors and staff helped mentor and pitch in where they could.

"The electronics department was pretty good about us going to the parts room and if we needed certain parts, letting us have them," says Letang. "We definitely traded some pizza for a few transistors."

The students designed and custom manufactured the device enclosure using Enger’s personal 3D printer at home. They programmed the internal computer and came up with a user interface that makes the strobe easy to use and highly adjustable. Commercial strobe units can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, yet the students estimate that the total cost of the parts for their device, without accounting for their time and expertise, was less than a hundred dollars.

Strobe lights, and the stroboscopic effect, have a variety of key industrial and education uses in research and development and product testing. Nelson uses strobes for classroom demonstrations to help students visualise rotational or vibratory motion by virtually ‘stopping’ or ‘slowing down’ rotating or vibrating objects.

"With this, you can freeze or manipulate the appearance of something in motion," explains Enger. "It’s pretty cool for example if you have rain falling at a certain rate, you can change the strobe to make it look like the water is going upwards, or make it like a still image."

"The end product is durable, can be switched on and off quickly, has many more features than a commercially available unit, and produces a very bright strobe light," says Nelson. "This will replace our old units that can only be used for a few minutes at a time because the flash unit could fail and is cost prohibitive. The students used long-lasting and relatively inexpensive LEDs, with many more features such as the ability to change brightness, precision strobe rate, and frequency doubling that are very convenient for demonstrations of high harmonic frequencies."

The students haven’t yet decided what will happen next with their design, but its success has them considering a number of options, from commercialization to developing an assembly kit that anyone could use to make their own version.

"This group of students is exceptional in many ways," says Nelson. "They are bright, with a very positive attitude, and are hard-working and dedicated. I am confident that they will be successful in their career paths."

With each of the three students planning to continue their students through the engineering bridge program to UVic, they want to leave a legacy to future Camosun students by giving their strobe light to the physics department for lab use.

"Hopefully those students in first year will see it and kind of get excited about what’s to come and what they are going to learn and what they will be able to do," says Krakowec Tickner. "Maybe they’ll say: ‘hey, I can build this better,’ because that’s what it’s all about."

Original article from Camosun College