New Mercer Lab opens to students

On Wednesday, October 3, the department of Electrical, Computer, and System Engineering held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new Douglas Mercer ’77 Laboratory for Student Exploration and Innovation.

Mercer, who was a member of the department while at RPI, provided a $500,000 endowment to fund the construction of the laboratory. Analog Devices, Inc, a leading corporation in signal processing, which Mercer worked for from 1995-2009, also provided funding for the project.

Head of the ECSE department Kim Boyer explained that the idea behind the laboratory is for students to use it for any project they wish. Essentially, the laboratory will function like a “hackerspace”—a location where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, digital art, or electronic art, can meet, socialize, and collaborate. However, Boyer said that these hackerspaces typically don’t exist within college environments. Therefore, the hope is to have one of the leading laboratories for this type of research and work. The lab will be available to students “with ideas they may have gotten from projects, class assignments, or elsewhere,” said Boyer.

Although the lab will be available to any student with an idea in mind, there will be a bookkeeping system to keep track of which resources were used. There will be a forgiveness system to keep costs from preventing innovation, said Boyer. However, it will not stop the ECSE department from charging students who simply take materials from the laboratory.

The lab is furnished with both standard and cutting-edge equipment, some of which has been supplied by Analog Devices. Among the devices available for use are reflow ovens, which can assist students with reworking circuit boards and mounting components on them. The lab will also have signal analyzers, an environmental chamber, and oscilloscopes. Despite the amount of equipment, Boyer stated that there would be enough space for six to eight people to work at the same time. There is also space for students to hold meetings or give presentations to group members.

Boyer expressed his excitement, and mentioned that many of the other members of his department were excited as well. “We really hope our students get as excited about this as we are,” he said. Boyer explained that when the decision to place the lab in the “heart” of the department was made, it was deliberate. Because of its location, faculty and staff members of the ECSE department will be able to observe the development of innovative projects.

The lab will be open to all students following the ribbon-cutting ceremony. For more information about the lab, students can contact Boyer at kim@ecse.rpi.edu.

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