Diary of a Trainee Electronics Engineer: March 2018
Image source: blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk
Getting back into STEM activities and getting to grips with MATLAB.
It’s getting closer and closer to that time of year again for university students, where the final exams of the year begin to loom; this on top of coursework and understandably everyone is particularly busy. As I mentioned in a previous post, for my university final year project I will be looking at Energy Monitoring and Usage Management in Machine Tools. The aim of this project is to look at the energy consumed by a CNC machine via the various different processes. In order to complete this project, once I have the data acquisition stage done, I need to move on to processing the data in a graphical user interface (GUI), such as the one provided by MATLAB.
Since starting university I’ve heard a lot of things about MATLAB and up until now haven’t had a chance to use it. From what I have gathered up to this point: some people don’t quite get along with it, whereas others swear by it – so I was quite excited to make my own judgements.
In addition to having the capabilities of building a graphical user interface, MATLAB also has a wide range of other capabilities, including:
- Data analysis, visualisation and exploration
- The ability to develop algorithms
- Application and model development
- Maths and computation
- Scientific and engineering graphs
- Graphical user interface (GUI) building
While MATLAB has a very wide range of capabilities, for my final year project I will only be looking at a specific few areas, which includes:
- Getting to grips with MATLAB
- Importing data from an .xls file
- Producing a graphical interface from said .xls file
Getting to grips with MATLAB
Here I looked at a combination of online and offline tutorials and worksheets to get used to how MATLAB works. To begin with I started playing around with basic prompts in the command window – doing very simple summing calculations like so:
MATLAB works like a lot of on-screen calculators, where +, -, *, and / represent add, subtract, multiply and divide respectively.
I got the hang of this pretty quickly and soon moved on to assigning variables. For example, I could say that x = 1 + 2 and y = 3 + 4, so what would it be if I added together x + y.
Next, I created a third variable which represented z = x + y
I next began playing around with the variables. So for example, if I wanted to change the value of x to equal four instead of three. Initially, I wasn’t sure if this would mean starting from scratch — which would be frustrating if dealing with more complicated sums/equations — or if I could somehow modify the variable which I had previously called x.
I soon figured out two ways of doing this, you can either select the workspace window on the page and edit the value for the variable in question, or you can simply enter the new variable by assigning it the same name as the one you want to overwrite.
At this stage, I have only just scratched the surface of MATLAB basics, but so far I can see the advantages, even though I haven’t had the chance to really explore the capabilities of it properly yet.
I’m looking forward to moving on to more useful applications and some which are more relevant to my final year project. So far MATLAB has been quite easy to figure out and get the hang of and next time I’m going to look at actually importing data from a .xls format file.
Since heading back to Uni in September I’ve been determined to become a much more active STEM ambassador — however, unfortunately I wasn’t quite prepared for the workload ahead of me and this was easier said than done.
In one of the newsletters which came out informing STEM Ambassadors of upcoming activities to get involved with, there was one on the list which really caught my eye; earlier in the month the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford were holding a ‘People like Me’ session, which fits in great with my Uni timetable and so I jumped at the chance.
The People like Me sessions are aimed at girls in high school. Here they take a ‘test’ to suggest what possible careers someone with certain personality attributes might have. I found this particularly interesting and having completed the test myself prior to the event, I found out that according to my personality attributes someone like me may go for a job as something like an architect or a sound engineer – not a million miles away I must say.
At the beginning of the session the girls and teachers from the attending schools have no idea what the STEM ambassadors do, and only later in the exercise do they find out and get a chance to ask questions about us. Some of which included:
- How did we get into our chosen career?
- What did you want to do when you were my age?
- What was your favourite subject in school?
I thought the People like Me session was a lot of fun, not only for the student and teachers but also for the STEM Ambassadors. While some of the girls left the session still adamant the career they wanted was nothing STEM related, I feel that a fair few of the girls left and wanted to learn a little bit more about careers in STEM — which I think is the best we could hope for!
I really enjoyed getting the chance to do another STEM activity. I know it’s been a little while since I last did one, but I definitely want to try and become more active in the STEM community. So if anyone has any suggestions as to what you think might be a cool STEM activity to run, please do leave a comment!