5 questions with…engineering student, design competition finalist Dan Goff

Dan Goff has always loved to tinker. Ever since he was a child, he’s spent his spare time taking apart and rebuilding anything and everything he could get his hands on, from speakers to furniture (much to his parents’ dismay). But now, as an electrical engineering master’s student, he gets to do this creation and reconstruction regularly, all in the name of education.

And it’s working out quite well for him, as he and four teammates recently were finalists in the Texas Instruments Analog Design Competition, held in Dallas. The group—comprising Goff and alumni Peg Bernholt, Thomas Glem, Eric Laakmann and James Mather—was the first team from Case Western Reserve to attend the competition, and their design was selected as one of the top 12 projects out of 140 submissions from schools across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

The competition finals took place nearly a year after the project originated. Last year, during Goff’s senior year as an undergraduate, he and fellow student Laakmann collaborated to design and build a standalone digital storage oscilloscope. For their next senior project, they decided to take on a much larger one requiring additional expertise. And so Bernholt, Glem and Mather joined the group. Their project: building a multidevice digital oscilloscope that would improve existing instruments in a circuits lab.

In most lab stations, Goff explained, there are multiple standalone devices that are large, heavy and expensive. “Our solution to this problem was a ‘lab in a backpack’ concept where all your instrumentation tools fit together in one small USB-based platform where the modules could be mixed and matched depending on your needs.”

So they set out to create the USB Signal Master, a modular instrumentation system that allows the user to customize their instrument for their specific application and needs, Goff said. Making full use of the Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory and think[box], and with funding from the Sears lab and SOURCE, the group toiled away at the project. Eventually, the USB Signal Master came to fruition—a small, textbook-sized device featuring four instrumentation card slots. The device is completely USB-based, which dramatically reduces the cost by removing the need for LCD displays, buttons, knobs and other communication ports, Goff explained. (You can watch a video of the USB Signal Master at vimeo.com/41614207.)

The project is just one of many that Goff, a native of Sewickley, Pa., has taken on throughout the years. And it certainly won’t be his last.

Learn more about him in this week’s five questions. (And stay tuned for next week, when we launch a new series of questions for the start of the semester.)

1. What superpower would you most like to have?
X-ray vision, so I don’t always have to take everything apart to see how it works. I would void a lot fewer warranties!

2. What’s your favorite place to dine in Cleveland?
The Winking Lizard and Wackadoo’s (now Jolly Scholar), not really because of the food, but because those are where my friends seem to gather.

3. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never had a specific profession in mind when I was a child, but my dad always said I would need to make good money to support my many hobbies. The trick I discovered later is that in engineering, I can get paid to work on what used to be my hobbies!

4. What accomplishments are you most proud of—personally and professionally?
I am most proud of my automotive detailing business I started when I was only 12 years old. I learned a lot about myself over the seven years I ran the business. I loved being an entrepreneur and I’d love to be one again someday!

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve University?
People are friendly here. Students and professors always want to collaborate and share their cool ideas. It’s not a crazy competitive or cutthroat environment.