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Agilent’s FieldFox Analyzers: Redefining RF Education

Agilent FieldFox handheld analyzers are today known for many things; namely, their precision, durability and multi-functionality—all of which make them exceptionally well suited to deliver quality measurements anywhere in the field (Figure 1). Much more than just a cable antenna tester, vector network analyzer or spectrum analyzer, the FieldFox RF and microwave combination analyzers can be configured with up to ten different instruments in a single unit. And, at just a third of the price of comparable benchtop instruments, they offer precise measurements on par with today’s highest performance benchtop microwave solutions. Now, these same features which have made the FieldFox analyzers so trusted and valued in the field are helping them garner attention in another arena; the teaching laboratory.

Figure 1. The FieldFox handheld analyzers offer outstanding precision and durability, are designed to withstand even the toughest working conditions, and with flexible operating modes can meet the needs of novices and experts alike.


Many key attributes of the FieldFox analyzers make them ideal for use in a teaching laboratory. For example, their compact and lightweight (3.0 kg or 6.6 lbs) form factor enables classroom space to be optimized, equipment to be easily shared across multiple laboratories, and lecturers to perform demonstrations without having to drag around a rack of bulky, heavy equipment. Moreover, as new upgrades and options become available, the instruments can be quickly updated with just a simple software key. Such features make the FieldFox analyzers invaluable to producing an exceptional teaching lab experience with a high return on investment.

The Birth of a High-Tech RF and Microwave Teaching Laboratory

On March 6, the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical Engineering unveiled a new RF and microwave teaching laboratory specifically developed around FieldFox, with its compactness, portability, and all-in-one design (Figure 2). The unveiling was hosted by Dr. Judith Ramey, with Professor Vikram Jandhyala, chair of the University of Washington’s department of electrical engineering, and Dan Dunn, general manager of Agilent’s handheld and low-cost network analysis division, formally dedicating the laboratory to the advancement of RF learning opportunities for students.

Figure 2. Shown here are Dan Dunn and Vikram Jandhyala at the recent Agilent Technologies RF Lab dedication at the University of Washington.


A joint collaboration between Agilent and the University of Washington, the new Agilent Technologies RF Lab seeks to provide students with a superior RF learning experience by improving their connection between textbook theory and application practice, nurturing their intuition and hands-on expertise, and exposing them to modern RF and microwave instrumentation (Figure 3). The lab will also provide students the opportunity to apply electromagnetics principles to other engineering disciplines.

Figure 3. An EE Junior at the University of Washington is helping the new Agilent Technologies RF Lab develop the first EE361 labs. She is using FieldFox’s Cable/Antenna mode to measure the electrical length of an SMA (open circuit) cable. By measuring the physical length she can estimate the velocity factor of the cable and compare it to manufacturer specifications.


"RF and microwave technology has provided society with several breakthrough electrical engineering and communication technologies and is continuing to develop rapidly,” said Professor Vikram Jandhyala. “The new Agilent Technologies RF Lab will allow our students to gain important hands-on test and design experience that will help prepare them for critical positions in industry.”

Installed in the new Agilent Technologies RF Lab are eight N9914A combinational analyzers, four ENA Vector Network Analyzers, four MXG Signal Generators, thirty seats of Agilent VSA software for teaching students about modulation basics, and fifty seats for Agilent EEsof EDA simulation and modeling software. This breadth of equipment will benefit faculty and students, enabling the University of Washington to expand its RF program with hands on, project-based experiential learning for students in multiple directions. The lab is also being considered for use in an upcoming antenna course, as well as radar experiments.

“Agilent remains firmly committed to improving engineering education and helping develop strong, highly skilled future engineers,” said Dan Dunn. “It has been a pleasure working with the faculty at the University of Washington’s electrical engineering department in development of a high-quality RF and microwave education for future engineers. The University’s new Agilent Technologies RF Lab provides a solid a foundation for our continued collaboration and efforts to improve RF education.”

The FieldFox Advantage

The application of swept frequency measurements to cable, 2-port, and antenna characterization are standard demonstrations that take place in an undergraduate electromagnetics laboratory. With FieldFox, University of Washington students can now take the principles of transmission lines and impedance matching highlighted in these demonstrations one step further—applying them to the practical debug and troubleshooting of actual RF systems. Because the FieldFox analyzers were designed for field measurements, students are free to move them to other laboratories or locations, even outdoors, to test communication links, microwave circuits, EMC emissions and shielding, RF interference, or cable performance on real operating hardware and systems.

The price and functionality balance of FieldFox allows undergraduate students unprecedented hands-on experience with RF instrumentation, providing them with direct exposure to contemporary methods of RF measurement, system debug, and design verification. In the past such access would have been confined to graduate students participating in funded research projects. In fact, cable fault identification, impedance matching, EMC leakage, filter tuning, interference identification and mitigation, scattering parameters, and spectrum access and allocation are all topics that were rarely included in undergraduate electromagnetics courses. With the help of the FieldFox analyzers; however, these topics can now be addressed in the laboratory setting to complement theoretical lectures on transmission lines, propagation, and field distributions.

Another key feature of FieldFox that makes it ideal for a teaching laboratory is that its measurement data can be stored on USB sticks or SD cards, or even linked to a remote location through LAN connectivity, making it easy for students to record and analyze their readings at a later time. The LAN connection also allows the instrument display to be converted to a large format for classroom use, and makes the instrument directly accessible to students in distance learning courses.

Proving Its Value

At the recent 2013 Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, Agilent and the University of Washington co-hosted a private Focus Group meeting with roughly twenty ECE department heads (Figure 4). The meeting highlighted the value of the FieldFox analyzers as a teaching tool and their use in the University of Washington’s new Agilent Technologies RF Lab.

Led by Wilkie Yu, Agilent’s handheld marketing manager, and Dr. Vikram Jandhyala, the meeting validated the idea of using these handheld instruments in a teaching laboratory with ECE chairs and department heads. It also resulted in providing invaluable insight into additional design features attendees would like to see in future FieldFox releases.

Figure 4. FieldFox Focus Group meeting at the ECEDHA Annual Conference and ECExpo.


Ensuring Successful Collaboration

More and more, electronic instrumentation is becoming portable and handheld. To ensure today’s engineering students are gaining appropriate hands-on experience with such handheld instrumentation it has now become both practical and sensible for Industry and Universities to collaborate on ways to improve students’ overall RF education (Figure 5). The University of Washington’s new Agilent Technologies RF lab, built around the FieldFox analyzers, is a prime example of one such collaborative success. The FieldFox analyzers, with their precision, portability and multi-functionality, are proving themselves perfectly well suited for meeting today’s RF educational challenges and in the process, helping better prepare students for the realities of their future electronics careers.

Figure 5. Through their collaborative effort, Agilent and the University of Washington are addressing the critical needs for RF education of undergraduate EE students.

 

Learn more about Agilent’s FieldFox analyzers, download applications, watch demo videos, and listen to the FieldFox education webcast series at www.agilent.com/find/fieldfox

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