Student Spotlight: Christopher Barth
Major: Integrated Engineering
Technology and Engineering
Most people go into a mild state of shock when an electrical appliance or machine malfunctions, but Christopher Barth actually gets a jolt out of fixing them.
"You might have a photocopy machine that people say is dead," Barth explained. "But I say that 95 percent of its components are still working. I see the fact that there is only a very small glitch."
Barth, who is now working on his master's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, completed an Associate in Applied Science degree in Integrated Engineering Technology and his first two years of engineering coursework at College of DuPage.
“COD helped me focus interests that I had from a young age, but which I was not certain what to do with,” he explains. “When I was three or four, I had a box of old car parts and components. For a long time, I did not really do anything with them, I just enjoyed having them. Eventually I was able to repair some of the items I took apart - at 11 I repaired the family washing machine.”
Because of his interest in electricity, Barth enrolled in the Integrated Engineering Technology program at college of DuPage. After his third semester, Barth was accepted for the Students in Engineering and Technology at Packer (STEP) program with Packer Engineering in Naperville. The STEP program exposes students to a broad range of engineering disciplines and allows them to observe and frequently participate in a variety of projects.
The focal point of Barth’s summer at Packer was an electromagnet design competition which taught students about a system to extract iron from the surface of the moon. Teams of interns built several different electro-magnets to pull iron from a simulated lunar soil mixture. During the magnet design process, Barth found plans for a high-efficiency magnet that uses both standard electromagnets and permanent magnets and conducted a series of strength tests, comparing the performance of the high-efficiency design against a conventional electromagnet.
At the University of Illinois, Barth worked on research with Professor Robert Pilawa to develop a new algorithm for controlling power converters used to maximize the efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels.
"We were specifically designing the algorithm to work effectively in small, low-cost converters which manage the energy from individual solar panels or subsections of a panel," he said. "Although the research results will hopefully be beneficial in many applications, we tailored our demonstration system to a solar battery charging application for use in the rural communities of underprivileged countries."
In summer 2012, Barth interned with Delphi in Kokomo, Ind., and worked in the power electronics division on electromagnetic compatibility testing. He continued his association with Pilawa on his senior thesis by working on a control strategy to maximize the power produced by solar panels. This is called maximum power point tracking and is required for most serious solar energy applications.
He earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering with honors in December 2012 and currently is finishing his master's.
"During my undergraduate studies I learned how to apply the theory of the approach, and during my first semester of graduate school I demonstrated the technique in hardware," he said. "I received one of three prize paper awards at the IEEE Workshop on Control and Modeling for Power Electronics for the paper I coauthored with Professor Pilawa, 'Implementation of Digital Dithering Ripple Correlation Control for Photovoltaic Maximum Power Point Tracking.' It was selected from almost 70 papers.
"Grad school in engineering at Illinois is challenging but rewarding if you know you are interested in the field. During my first semester, I was a TA for a class on electric machines and will continue TA work this fall in a power electronics lab course. Helping students learn is rewarding and provides an opportunity to benefit others in the midst of busy engineering semesters that would otherwise be focused almost entirely on my own classes and research. Life is a lot more meaningful when we are investing in the people around us."
Barth also understands the value of internships.
"In today’s competitive world, an internship is a must for college students. An internship gives you practical, hands-on experience -- in other words, the common sense that you really can’t achieve in a classroom,” said Barth, who cautioned that students on internships cannot afford to kick back. “You have to come in with the idea of doing whatever you can to further the project.”
One of Barth's aspirations is operating his own manufacturing business in a rural setting. Rather than shipping more manufacturing jobs overseas, he would like to use automated manufacturing processes to give motivated American workers an opportunity to compete with foreign manufacturing and still make a comfortable living.
Barth is very grateful for the opportunities and training he received while at COD.
“I was a little apprehensive about transferring into one of the highest-ranked electrical engineering programs in the country," he said. "COD provided a great foundation and solid academic track record from which to begin my work at Illinois. Most importantly, it gave wings to the fascination I have had with electricity since I was young.
"I would encourage any potential students who are considering beginning at COD to get started with classes that interest you and then make the most of every internship opportunity you can find. You never know where you will end up."
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