Alumnus Jim Hamblen knows the joy of tinkering. As a kid, he liked to open things up out of curiosity to see what was inside, how they worked. It's a hard habit to break.
"I just got a new computer gizmo for the lab the other day and the first thing I did was pop the screws off the back to take a look inside," he laughs.
In high school, he spent many an afternoon meticulously sorting and soldering the capacitors, transistors, color-coded diodes and other electronic paraphernalia from the latest Heath Kit.
As a professor of computer engineering at Tech, Hamblen, EE 74, PhD 84, has brought his penchant for hands-on learning to the classroom for more than 20 years.
"I've been involved in a lot of the senior design courses, where students take a computer and build something," he says. "A lot of them built various kinds of robots or prototypes of some sort of embedded product they thought would be an interesting gizmo to have around."
Learning by doing is important enough to Hamblen that he requires hands-on design projects of all his students, a task most find rewarding.
One recent measure of their appreciation is Hamblen's receipt of the 2006 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award, endowed by the class of 1940 to reward teaching excellence. Other honors include the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Teacher Award from the electrical and computer engineering senior class of 2004.
When he's not teaching or conducting research — Hamblen's research activities include rapid prototyping of digital systems, embedded systems, computer architecture and computer-aided design — he might be adding to his collection of rocks and minerals.
Hamblen's particular interest is fluorescent minerals, which represent but a tiny fraction of the mineral world. "A lot of them look like ordinary old rocks in the daylight," he says in explaining their appeal. "When you hit them with an ultraviolet light, you see all kinds of incredibly bright, vivid colors coming off of something that looks like a plain rock."