University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Three K-12 Teachers Participate in CASA Research Experience

Three local K-12 teachers have participated this summer in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) while working with the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) in mutually beneficial projects. In general, the RET program is designed as an opportunity for K-12 teachers to work side by side with CASA faculty and graduate students contributing significantly to a research project while creating material to benefit their classrooms. The three K-12 teachers were Tania Cezar (Fuller Middle School, Framingham), Nick Harrison (Amherst Regional Middle School), and Jason Donovan (SABIS charter school, Springfield). CASA provided stipends for all three of the teachers so they could afford to spend their summer doing research at UMass Amherst.

Cezar and Harrison worked with CASA’s David McLaughlin to help him develop Labs for ECE 361: Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering.

ECE 361 is an introduction to modern electrical engineering for non-electrical and computer engineering majors. The course covers basic electric-circuit elements and laws, including first- and second-order circuits, AC circuit analysis, systems concepts, diodes, bipolar junction transistors, field-effect transistors, digital logic, transistor amplifiers, electromagnetics, transformers, transducers, generators, and motors.

As Cezar and Harrison described their project, “Dr. McLaughlin is working on developing new labs and the associated lab packets for the course and seeks the assistance of teacher to do so, which will help ensure the material is accessible and beneficial to non-ECE  majors.”

Throughout ECE 361, students will build model cars using Arduino processors and sensors to control the vehicle movement. Harrison, who teaches engineering technology, focused on building a prototype car to identify the components of a “kit” with which the ECE 361 students will use to build their own car. He also assisted with laying out milestones, or individual lab assignments, for the students to work on throughout the semester that would culminate in a finished product.

Cezar focused on translating the work to the level of middle school students by developing the lesson plans, thus enhancing student understanding of the engineering design process, different types of renewable energy sources, and how energy is transformed.

The result is a fully developed lesson plan aligned with the Massachusetts Department of Education frameworks, which will culminate in students applying the knowledge they have acquired to design and build a solar-powered car. Cezar will test the lesson plans she developed in her own classroom this coming year.

Donovan worked with CASA’s Eric Knapp to develop a Doppler-capable receiver for the off-the-grid (OTG) radars that make up the Student-Led Test Bed (STB) in Puerto Rico.

The STB is a system of low-cost radars that are capable of providing quality precipitation estimates in regions where adequate infrastructure (e.g., power, data backhaul) is either not available or too costly. One limitation of the OTG radars is that they cannot measure wind speed or direction.

Beyond providing useful information about storm movement and strength, wind data can be used to filter clutter from radar data, thereby improving precipitation estimates. Essentially, areas of high reflectivity but no movement (zero wind velocity) are indicative of clutter, which is a reflection from a mountain or building, and should be removed prior to estimating precipitation.

Donovan worked on modifying an Ettus N210 transceiver to develop a low-cost Doppler-capable receiver. (2013)