Friday, April 10, 2015

Judging Science & Engineering Awesomeness at Florida Tech

I remember how much of a rush science poster presentations are. Months or years worth of work presented on a large sheet of paper that needs to be both attractive and informative. I could never find the right balance between including all of the information to explain my work and making the poster presentable and uncluttered. For posters that are judged, all of that work needed to be put into a few minute spiel, summarized nicely from beginning to end, explained without knowing what kind of background the judge had and whether there is a need to start from the very beginning or if the judge will know more than I about my project. And then the questions – nearly impossible to predict and plan for them all. And I needed to be entertaining! It’s a challenge even for the practiced scientists, but for undergrads, it’s still a learning process.

3rd year judge, reporting for duty!

 Today I had the pleasure of being a judge for the third year for my undergraduate alma mater, the Florida Institute of Technology’s annual Engineering and Science Design Showcase. For the most part, the presented research are the senior capstone projects for the science and engineering disciplines. Given my background, I am a judge for the Physics & Space Sciences section, which this year was dominated by astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science. A fellow judge was a physicist with no astronomy background, so he learned a ton!

The Physics & Space Sciences section

As usual, I was the only young female judge in my section. In fact, at the pre-event reception yesterday evening, I was mistaken for a student! This happens fairly often, regardless what I’m wearing or how I present myself. I’m sure I’ll appreciate my youthful appearance more as time goes on. I was also the only judge with formal astrophysics training in my section, which allowed me to assist my fellow judges. I learned quite a bit from a fellow judge with lots of lightning and atmospheric phenomenon detection experience!

The P&SS winner showing off pretty Hubble images

 This year we were to judge twelve poster projects, and for the first time since I’ve been doing this, all of the students were present to discuss their research. There also seemed to be an impressive spread of good projects in my section this year, better than years before. The current senior class should be proud! By the end, a full half of the poster presentations were in the running to win based on the diversity of judge opinions. In the end, my #1 was chosen as our overall #1 and my #2 was chosen as our #2, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The physics & space science projects this year has a different focus due to the addition of new faculty. Research included magnetic fields on stars, the makeup of the regolith in craters on the Moon, testing image processing techniques, orbital dynamics of dwarf planets and their moons, halos from sprites (related to lightning), exoplanet periods, Large Hadron Collider detector hardware, SX Phoenicis stars, and the winner, locating supernovae in Hubble Space Telescope deep field images using artificial neural networks.

After my section had submitted our final scores, I browsed the rest of the projects. I’ll admit my bias toward hardware: specialized cars, aircraft, canoes, model buildings, improved rowing machines, virtual reality equipment, underwater rovers, Mars rovers, lunar rovers, and even an improve football trainer. Such diversity!

Mars rover design

UAV design, getting ready to compete

Regolith mining rover design, getting ready to compete

Underwater rover design

Pretty canoe

Maybe it’s my faulty memory, but I don’t remember presenting a final research project when I attended Florida Tech. At the time, it may have just been an engineering design showcase. I love the expansion into the sciences and I’m honored to be a judge each year. I conducted research as an undergraduate and I believe that’s an essential component of an undergrad education in science or engineering.

Just being back on campus where I used to give tours when I was a student brought back memories. I moved from Pennsylvania to Florida for college for the great education, the proximity to Kennedy Space Center, and the warm weather and local beaches. I loved my time at Florida Tech! I highly recommend it to any student interested in the disciplines that the university specializes in. Each time I visit the campus, I run into professors who bring a smile to my face and are so proud to seem me succeed. It’s largely because of so many of them that I was able to survive an astronomy/astrophysics major, gain summer internships, and go off to grad school. I have a lot to be grateful for and I’m thankful that I can give back in small ways.

My official Florida Institute of Technology graduation photo, May 2006

No comments:

Post a Comment