Student Spotlight: Christopher Barth
Major: Integrated Engineering
Technology and Engineering
Hometown: Oak Brook
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 studying 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 was an electromagnet design competition which taught students about a system to extract iron from the surface of the moon patented by Packer Director Peter Schubert. 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.
Barth continued his internship with Packer Engineering during the summers of 2008-2010, as well as during several semesters. He has worked on various other projects and even has his name on a pending patent for an improvement he made to a device that can be used to determine the wear of military rifles and pistols by counting the number of bullets fired.
The project built on previous work by Packer's engineers and involved designing an electronic circuit and a small generator that can be mounted on the gun to power the circuit.
Later, Packer was awarded a research contract from the Marine Corp to design a counter for automatic rifles, and the company finished the first phase of the project in June of 2010, delivering several working prototypes to the military.
"One of the exciting things about the project was that most of the circuit development and testing was accomplished by interns," Barth said.
During the summer of 2010 Barth also worked on PLC software to control a Biomass Gasifier that Packer Engineering is developing in conjunction with Argonne National Laboratory. Working with another intern, Barth was able to rewrite the software to incorporate more functionality while significantly reducing the memory required by the software.
"Much of what we did was fairly simple," he explained. "It just required persistence and a lot of creativity!"
Barth is currently working 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 are 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 are tailoring our demonstration system to a solar battery charging application for use in the rural communities of underprivileged countries."
In summer 2012, Barth will intern with Delphi in Kokomo, Ind., and work in the power electronics division on electromagnetic compatibility testing.
After finishing his bachelor's degree in December 2012, Barth plans to continue at the University of Illinois to earn a master's degree.
Barth also understands the value of internships.
"In today's competitive world, an internship is a must for college students," he said. "Not only do internships show prospective employers that students are serious about their careers, they are also a valuable learning experience outside of the classroom.
"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."
As a bachelor's degree in engineering is one of the most versatile undergraduate degrees a student can attain, Barth hopes to use it as a tool to help others. One aspiration he has 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.
"The classes I took at COD have done an excellent job in preparing me for the coursework I am in now. I was a little apprehensive about transferring into one of the highest-ranked electrical engineering programs in the country, but I found that I was well-prepared by the professors at COD," he said. "My first semester GPA was 3.9 and I am on track to finish a bachelor's in three more semesters.
"I would strongly recommend that students in DuPage at least consider starting their college education at COD. It may not be best for everyone, but it was perfect for me."
College of DuPage
425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn IL
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2012 College of DuPage