Mechanical Engineering Lab II

Jun 2014

This class was interesting in the sense that it was not what I expected compared to Lab I. In Fall 2013, Prof Kysar split Lab I into a few weeks of class-like lessons covering the theory of the experiments before giving us two weeks for each lab. In Lab II, Prof Akbari scheduled about 3 classes summarizing the theory, gave about 10 days per lab, and completed the class with a final exam in early April. Prof Akbari seemed relatively well suited for Lab II, given that 2 of the 5 experiments were related to Fluid Dynamics, but he seemed to leave most of the work to the TAs. There was minimal difficulty in understanding the theory behind every lab, but the actual lab materials occassionally malfunctioned (notably the pyranometer in the solar panel lab). Not a difficult class except that the final exam had a few curveball questions. The best thing you can do is finish the majority of your lab report within 2-3 days of finishing the lab. Remember to do enough review of the theory before going into the lab. Though it may not be possible, if you really want a better group, get enough support and ask the professor if everyone can pick their own lab groups.

Jul 2011

In this class, you'll generally have to go figure out how to use some arcane, poorly-labeled, and outdated machinery to take data. You'll then have to perform some time-consuming operations on that data, and repeat many times. No one will tell you what those operations are, nor will they explain the goal of your analysis. Make good, good friends with the TA's. It's not very clear what your lab reports are graded on (as in most labs at columbia), and no one has any clue at all what constitutes a good lab notebook. Some of my most thrown-together labs got 97's while our exhaustively-labored products received 80's. Before the hands-on sessions begin, Wong gives a few days of packed, high-intensity lectures. These are completely useless until the final exam. He also prints a tremendous amount of material and hands it out; you will only read a tiny, tiny fraction of it. The practice exam is significantly easier than the final. If you ask Chee Wei questions during lab session or (god forbid) outside of class, he mostly tells you to ask a TA. He is also never, ever in his office. Only one of the TA's speaks English at an intelligible volume. The other has a medium thick accent but can be understood with some effort.

May 2011

Just like all other lab courses, this one too was pointless. The experiments are very flawed, and most of the times you are just sitting there pushing buttons, waiting for a number to come up on the screen, and recording that number without the slightest idea of what it represents. What makes this class slightly better is that you are testing cool shit, like the Carnot cycle, drag/lift on an airfoil using a wind tunnel, supersonic flow, etc. Also, although it sucked at the time, we were given very little instruction on how to analyze the results. Therefore, we were really forced into learning everything well and understanding what every number meant and how each result is obtained. I have no other comments for the class itself. Lab classes are flawed and poorly organized - we all know that. My problem was with the lack of organization of the professor and the TAs. We would get our graded lab reports back 3-4 weeks after they were turned in, and by that time we had already turned in at least one more lab report, so we really had no time to change a recurring mistake. Also, it has now been 5 weeks since the final, and we have still not gotten our grades back. That was my first final and grades were officially due 3 weeks ago, which is a testament to how disorganized the instructor is. The TAs barely spoke any English, which became a problem since we didn't get detailed step-by-step lab instructions but we depended on the TAs to explain what we should be doing. They talk you through the experiment in the beginning, you stay and do it (mostly push buttons and record numbers), and then you go home and try to make sense of everything. There is a final in this course - 5 questions covering each of the 5 experiments. You have to know everything in order to do well - from performing the experiments itself, to the equipment, to data interpretation, etc. It was somewhat difficult since there was nothing to study from - you just Wikipedia the concepts and hope that what you are studying is enough.