Student Union Building
PO Box 444264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264
1031 N. Academic Way,
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Chamber of Secrets
It looks like a futuristic torture chamber or the interior of a cave on a distant planet. Every square inch of the room is covered by spikey blue four-sided pyramids that jut out nearly a foot from the wall. By all appearances, an unlucky visitor with bad balance could easily wind up looking like Swiss cheese.
It looks cold, dark and menacing.
But in reality, it is none of the above. It is one area of pride and joy for the University of Idaho College of Engineering: a state-of-the-art anechoic chamber.
“This research facility is competitive by every national standard,” says Jeffrey Young, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Very few schools have something like this.”
The pointy blue spikes may look menacing, but they’re not dangerous at all. They’re made out of harmless foam infused with carbon fibers. The soft material molded into that specific pyramid shape is ideal for preventing electromagnetic waves from bouncing off the wall. This unique feature makes the sensor inside the chamber feel like it is “the only thing in the universe.” The setup is ideal for testing antennas primarily used in wireless communications.
Standing near the back of the chamber is a metal box perched on top of a white pillar. The metal box has two prongs protruding from its front and the ability to rotate in any direction. This is where experimental antennas are mounted and rotated to see how well they receive signals from a variety of angles.
But what really makes the anechoic chamber special is the opportunity it has provided students.
“A system like this would cost up to $750,000 if we bought it as a package,” says Young. “But students designed, built and assembled the entire thing from scratch right here at the University of Idaho.”
For seven years, every component of the facility’s construction – including the unique walls, ceilings and floors – was part of an engineering student’s educational experience. The machines that turn the antenna and the software that controls them are two more examples of hands-on project experience provided by the chamber’s development.
Since its completion, the chamber has also provided opportunities for advanced research.
One such project is a small, metal hexagon measuring roughly two-inches across and just millimeters thick. It may not look like much, but the device is an advanced circulator-antenna that can be connected simultaneously to a transmitter and receiver.
“We’ve demonstrated that this type of antenna can be made and how it can be done,” says Young, who hopes to market the new intellectual property. “Due to its low weight and compact size, we believe that the device will have particular applications in military radar and communication systems.”