MQP Quick Guide

Professor Pahlavan's 2010 MQP Team

Contents:

1. What is an MQP

The Major Qualifying Project should demonstrate application of the skills, methods and knowledge of the discipline to the solution of a problem which would be representative of the type to be encountered in one's career. The project's content area should be carefully selected to complement your total educational program.

MQP activities range through research, development, and application, can involve analysis or synthesis, can be experimental or theoretical, and can emphasize a particular subarea of the major or combined aspects of several subareas. Most MQPs will provide you with a capstone design experience. What this means is that the MQP is a project that culminates your WPI education with the application of ideas from your coursework to designing a product, instrument, device, or program which integrates theory and practice. Indeed, every MQP progresses somewhat differently depending on the individual student's needs, the advisor's interest, the student's motivation, team dynamics, and many other factors. While this looseness might be disquieting for some, it can be the MQP's biggest asset since it allows you to participate in a real engineering project that you have a hand in defining, thus allowing you to fully experience the thrill of solving a challenging problem and the agony of chasing false leads.

2. Important Dates

Since your choice of an MQP topic may influence your course selection and schedule for your senior year, you should plan to find an MQP as soon as possible in your junior year. Detailed information concerning the registration procedure for an MQP is available online through the IGSD (for off-campus projects) and ECE department (for on-campus projects).  Dates of interest for academic year 2014-2015 are as follows:

  • Monday, November 3, 2014, AK 116 - ECE MQP Information Session
  • Majoring in ECE? Information Session - February 2015
  • Academic Advising Day - February 19, 2015  
  • 15 days after the start of the C Term – Project Registration Deadline
  • Project Presentation Day - Thursday, April 23, 2015, AK219 and AK233

3. How to Complete a Successful MQP

Generally, an MQP has 5 phases: Project Definition - Research - Design - Evaluation - Reporting. Since MQP is a multi-stage comprehensive project, it is recommended to meet regularly with your project advisor and to follow the project schedule closely.  

Project Definition

During the project definition phase, you will begin to determine exactly what you will do for your MQP. The idea for the project might be something that you thought up on your own, or it might be one of the project ideas that have been presented by the faculty. The process of defining the project usually involves writing a project proposal. The proposal might be as short as 3-5 pages, and it generally includes the basic definition of the project along with the project goals, projected schedules and budgets, and the methodology you will use to satisfy the project objectives. You should start the "project definition" phase before the registered project term takes place. This phase should also involve selecting a team to work with you. A typical project proposal has the following sections: introductions, literature review, methodology, schedule and budget, and project specification. During the first term of your MQP, you'll probably spend a lot of time refining this proposal.

Research

The research phase of a typical MQP begins in the first term. This is when you will start refining the initial proposal that you wrote to get the project going. Based on your initial proposal, your advisor will probably have comments and suggestions for sources of specific information that you will need. Your advisor will probably also identify areas that you now need to explore. During this phase, you will start following up on all of these directions. Your biggest source of information for this phase will probably be your course notes, texts, and the library. Through the library, you can also gain access to many electronic books and journals online.

Once you've completed the research phase, you will be fairly knowledgeable about the problem on which you are working. You will know what others before you have done, how well their approach worked, and how you can do better. You will fully understand the nuances of the problem and will know the tools and techniques that are needed to solve the problem better, faster, or less expensively than anyone else. If you've kept careful notes along the way, you will also have a significant store of information that will prove useful when you write your MQP report. Now it's time to put your ideas to work!

Design

The design phase of a project can take many forms, depending on the nature of your particular MQP. For example, in a theoretically-oriented MQP, the design phase might consist of completing the proof of a new technique for calculating the effects associated with some physical phenomenon. In order to test this technique, you might have to develop a program that performs the necessary computations on a variety of examples for which theoretical or experimental results already exist. For hardware-oriented projects, the design phase normally involves taking the detailed specifications derived through your research and designing and building a circuit that you expect will satisfy them.

Although each MQP will have different kinds of design components, the design phase is really that time when the theoretical knowledge you have accumulated about the project, along with the skills you've learned in the classroom, are applied to solve a real problem. In engineering terms, design is the point in time when you take a theory and reduce it to practice. This means creating theoretically justifiable designs, not making guesses and creating a working design through trial and error during system debugging!

Evaluation

Proving that your design is correct can be difficult, but it is essential. For example, if you are designing a new controller for a heart rate controller in a pacemaker it's no good to tell the patient that it "should" work. You've got to demonstrate that it does work (and will continue working)! Part of this proof is done in the design phase where you calculate the current flows, power dissipations, logic timings, and other design parameters. The rest of this proof is done when you take your constructed device into the laboratory and test it.

Again, the nature of the testing depends on the specific type of project. If you're building a board that will be launched on the Space Shuttle, you'll be putting your design in ovens and refrigerators (to test thermal cycling) and putting it on shaker tables (to verify mechanical stability). If you're testing theoretical results, you may be running experiments and taking measurements to correlate theory with observation. In either case, the purpose of the evaluation stage is to ensure that your design meets the specifications you derived. Indeed, by the time you successfully complete the evaluation phase it's quite likely that you will have done additional research, updated your design, and re-evaluated your results one or more times.

Reporting Results

In an engineering environment, shouting about your results usually takes the form of reporting your findings to your colleagues, customers, and possibly the engineering community through presentations and through written reports. Although few beginning engineers realize it, the best way to communicate to your boss how well you are doing is to make good presentations and to write excellent reports. To teach you about this process all MQPs conclude with a substantial written report and an oral presentation.

The MQP report documents the entire project. In this report, you will present the project, the research you did, the details of your design, and the results of your evaluation. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of a quality report, and, even though it is the last thing you will turn in related to the project, you should start writing it when the project begins. Appendix B contains information describing the style of the report in detail.

The MQP Oral Presentation is similar to the written report, but is presented in a more abbreviated format. Details on the oral presentation are contained in Appendix C. In brief, the oral presentation will briefly introduce the project, describe the major innovations that made the project succeed, present an evaluation or demonstration of the project, and then will conclude by assessing the project status and prospects.

4. Off-Campus and On-Campus Projects

WPI offers a wide variety of project opportunities, both off- and on-campus.

Off-Campus

Off-campus projects are usually scheduled for a single term and require travel to the site of a project sponsor. The IGSD website allows you to explore the title="project centers">WPI project centers and provides application information and deadlines for off-campus project opportunities. The project centers that actively recruit ECE students include MIT Lincoln Lab (MA), Silicon Valley (CA), Limerick Ireland, Wall Street (NY), and Sun Microsystems (MA). Working on an off-campus project can be a unique and valuable educational experience that is well worth the intense schedule and travel expenses. 

On-Campus

If you are interested in pursuing an on-campus project, your first priority should be to find a faculty advisor who is interested in your idea or who is offering a project that interests you.  The ECE faculty are an eclectic group of people that have a wide array of interests and ideas for projects.  To explore faculty interests and proposed projects, check out the ECE MQP Information page. 

On-campus MQPs are usually conducted in the research laboratories within the ECE department.  Some on-campus MQPs are externally sponsored, in which case the sponsor may have specific requirements for the project outcomes. If you have your own project idea, you are encouraged to bring it to the faculty in the area of expertise for discussion. One of the main advantages of completing an on-campus MQP is the opportunity to propose your own creative and exciting project idea.

5. Contacts for Further Information

For general information about MQPs please contact Professor Bitar  x5501.

If you need help with lab equipment, computers, or ECE shop service, the following are the contacts:
MQP Project Laboratory Dr. James O'Rourke, x5233
ECE Shop

Robert Boisse, x5341

William Appleyard, x5869

You may also contact the members of the 2013-2014 Undergraduate Program Committee for MQP-related questions:

Prof. Stephen Bitar (Chair), x5501

Prof. Reinhold Ludwig, x5315

Prof Alexander Emanuel, x5239

 

 

 

 

 
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