Particle physics laboratory

RPI to launch the Douglas A. Mercer ’77 Innovation and Exploration Lab

Newswise – TROY, NY – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will launch the Douglas A. Mercer ’77 Innovation and Exploration Lab at 10:30 a.m. on November 9 at Russell Sage Dining Hall. Affectionately known as the Mercer XLab, the institution aims to facilitate innovation in pedagogy and multiply learning opportunities by fostering interconnection between students and professors. Mercer, a longtime supporter of his alma mater, originally made the Mercer Student Exploration Laboratory possible. Today, thanks to a donation of $2 million, the laboratory is expanding.

“The world needs more engineers, especially electrical engineers,” Mercer said. “Engineers, and largely electrical engineers, have created and enabled technology that has resulted in huge advancements in productivity. I see the newly expanded XLab as a place to question everything and assume nothing while exploring the proposition that the application of innovative technology can indeed improve the way RPI educates the (electrical, computer and systems) engineers of the future.

The Mercer XLab will foster a learning ecosystem that actively engages faculty, students, and staff in an educational experience to amplify the learning experience for RPI students. It will provide intentional spaces to create innovations, find collaborations, share technical tools and aggregate the results of participants’ explorations to multiply the impact of innovators.

With this lab, Rensselaer builds on its legacy of innovative pedagogy, which began with its university founder, Amos Eaton, nearly 200 years ago. Eaton was a pioneer in the hands-on approach to education that included field study, laboratory experiments, and subsequent reporting to peers and professors rather than passively sitting and listening exclusively to lectures. Over the past few years, Rensselaer has pioneered “the studio classroom,” an interactive, team-based learning concept; the ‘flipped classroom’, in which students learn the basics independently and class time is used for guided problem solving and experimentation; and the Mobile Studio, which allowed students to harness the power of lab equipment with a small, inexpensive device.

“To continue to evolve, we must remain passionate about learning and open to new ideas with a focus on collaboration and interdisciplinarity,” said President Martin Schmidt ’81, Ph.D. “There are so many different learning styles to succeed. The Mercer XLab will bring together students and faculty from very different backgrounds and experiences to explore, imagine, create, and sometimes even fail. I am very excited to see how RPI’s long history of innovative teaching and learning will be revolutionized. »

The first Mercer XLab Director is Shayla Sawyer, Rensselaer Professor of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering (ECSE) and champion of hands-on design-focused engineering education. Sawyer is now an accomplished researcher and revered teacher, but that’s not the path she originally envisioned. She started out as a student-athlete at Hampton University with aspirations of working for General Electric as a technical manager. Dedicated and committed faculty like Hampton University Dean and former RPI Professor Morris Morgan and retired ECSE Professor Ken Connor influenced his decision to go to graduate school and ultimately , to strive to have an impact on the future through a career in academia.

“The X in the Mercer XLab represents multiplication of ideas, multiplication of learning, and the unknowable and exciting endpoint from the starting point. When an ambitious vision is strongly felt, you need the perspectives of others to adding to your potential and intentional space to explore, evaluate, fail and iterate. This has been my whole lived experience in many aspects of my life,” Sawyer said. “Whatever your perceived personal potential, take the decision to multiply this potential in a vibrant community of thinkers, do-it-yourselfers, explorers and innovators. I hope that the XLab will become a space where students, faculty and staff can come together to actively pursue a revolution at RPI and pushing the boundaries of what it means to learn in an academic institution.

Sawyer cites three fundamental pillars for the Mercer XLab. First he goes allow students to explore by supporting DIY, open design experimentation and intellectual curiosity. Second, the lab support innovative faculty and staff in curricular and self-directed learning innovations. Third, it will facilitate the exchange of ideas through cross-pollination through sharing of tools, access to education-focused external expertise, and strategic planning towards high-impact outreach opportunities.

The launch event will include remarks from President Schmidt; Dean of the Shekhar Garde School of Engineering; Head of ECSE Department John Wen; current MBA student Caitlin Bennett ’22; National Science Foundation Deputy Assistant Director of Engineering and former ECSE Professor Don Millard; Ken Connor; and Sawyer. Video presentations will highlight the educational innovations already underway under Sawyer’s leadership. Students will present projects from the Fundamental Electrical Circuits class of Sawyer, who has already implemented the innovative pedagogy.

A pioneer in analog-to-digital conversion, Mercer joined Analog Devices in 1977, where he contributed to more than 30 commercial products. He holds 13 US patents, was named an ADI Fellow in 1995, and retired from full-time work in 2009. He remains a Distinguished Fellow with Analog Devices. He has long been involved in the ECSE department, sponsoring a student circuit design competition since 2007, staffing a seminar series with distinguished speakers, and providing an endowment in 2012 to establish the Douglas Mercer ’77 Laboratory for Exploration and student innovation, an open electronics manufacturing space. where students can tinker with their own ideas. Mercer strongly believes in the benefits of hands-on experience in the learning process.

“Doug Mercer has been sharing his experience and insights with ECSE for over a decade,” said Wen. “As a member of the ECSE Advisory Board, Doug regularly provided feedback and feedback on our curriculum and teaching methodologies. Doug’s latest donation will galvanize the department’s innovation in training the next generation of engineers.

Learn more about the Mercer XLab at RPI.


About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s premier technological research university. Rensselaer comprises five schools, more than 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a vibrant community of more than 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 155 National Academy members, six National Inventors Hall of Fame members, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners and one Nobel laureate of physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on solving global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. For more information, visit

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