Summer 2007 Issue

Creating a Few Scientists and
Engineers with Amateur Radio
Students, space programs and projects,
and amateur radio . . .
a winning combination.

By Luther Richardson, KI4AOJ
Columbus High School, Columbus, GA

The Auburn University balloon recovery team with the author and Keith Warren, AK4KO, on the far right. The launch site was selected to aim for the only flat terrain in the southeast, farm land and specifically a cotton field. (All images courtesy of the author)

If you visit an undergraduate physics or engineering lab at any college in the country, you will be alarmed to find out how many students have never built anything mechanical or electrical during their experiences in or outside of their classes in high school and college. Can the amateur radio community make a difference in the quality of educational opportunities available? Is it worth doing? These are the questions addressed in this article. Students at Auburn University and at Columbus High School (CHS) have completed some projects using amateur radio that do amazing things. For many science and engineering students, the lessons learned in these kinds of projects usually are transferable to an actual job setting.

Students who take on these kinds of projects often have to learn technical skills along the way, and just as important, they learn project management skills. The key element for both a mentor and organizer is to set up the students for success. The students may fail repeatedly through the various steps of a project and stop trying if they experience the fear of failure. Therefore, gentle nudges and words of encouragement are required, mixed with a few proverbial “kicks in the pants” to keep them going. Access to a knowledgeable amateur radio operator will prevent the students from constantly reinventing the wheel and give them a way out of those “technical dead-ends” that often stop the beginner in advanced projects.

This article describes a university student-built satellite project using amateur radio bands, a high school student antenna experiment that flew on a NASA rocket, and a high school high-altitude balloon program that will fly middle school experiments and use APRS to track the balloon. In the descriptions of these student projects, input by amateur radio operators will be highlighted. In the end, I hope I can convince you that teenagers and young adults really can do interesting things given the right atmosphere for learning, such as the one that exists in the applications of amateur radio.

Some Background

In 2001, I started working with some of my high school physics students at Columbus (Georgia) High School on experiments proposed to NASA and others. The group calls itself the Columbus High School Space Program. In the last six years, this group of students has had over two-dozen proposals accepted by NASA, by the Lemelson-MIT Foundation, by Auburn University, and by others to design, build, and perform original experiments. Most of those experiments have been sent into space or to the very edge of it.

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