Monthly Archives: March 2012

Where I’ve Been for Three Months

You may have noticed that I’ve been mostly absent from the intertubes for the past three months. This happens every year from January through March. Why? It was all for a girl named Lucy:

Lucy

Actually, it wasn’t for Lucy at all, it was to provide the most awarding high school experience of which I’m aware to them:

Team 3061

They are Huskie Robotics, FIRST Team 3061.

A bit over four years ago, with no prior notice, I was asked by a student I didn’t know to show up in a meeting room at school to discuss a robotics program. A couple of hours later, four students and four teachers had signed the paperwork to found FIRST Team 3061 and participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

We just completed our fourth season. It was an amazing year. We rebranded the team with a new logo and a new name: Huskie Robotics. We secured major funding from Navistar, the Motorola Solutions Foundation, and our high school Boosters Club. We partnered with Create, Cut, and Invent for fabrication. We had several dedicated mentors working with the students. With our corporate support, we were able to attend two regional competitions. Two weeks ago we participated in the Lake Superior Regional. We didn’t make the elimination rounds, but we discovered and fixed several issues, refined our strategy, and got a lot of practice. This weekend, we participated in the Midwest Regional with teams from the midwest as well as Arkansas and Texas.

We finished the qualification matches with a 9-2 record and ranked 10th! During the alliance selection process where the top teams choose their alliance partners for the elimination matches, we ended up as the captain of the 7th alliance! Thanks to our scouting reports, we were able to make wise decisions and select teams that were under-ranked and overlooked by others. Teams 1710 (Ravonics Revolution) and 1781 (Electric Eagles) graciously accepted our invitation to join our alliance.

As the 7th ranked alliance, we met the #2 ranked alliance, consisting of teams 1625 (Winnovation), 2949 (Pwnage), and 3135 (Robotic Colonels). in the quarterfinals. We won the first match 42-36 and won the second match 38-37 to advance to the semifinals! Both matches were won in the final seconds with all alliance members contributing to the victory.

We met the #3 seed of teams 111 (Wildstang), 71 (Team Hammond), 2151 (Monty Pythons). We lost the first match 35-53. It was actually very close as our alliance almost completed a 20-point double bridge balance in the final seconds. Our alliance had some bad luck in our next match as both our alliance partners had mechanical issues which disabled their robots from driving. We made the best of the situation, scored several baskets during the teleoperated phase, and balanced on the bridge on our own. We ended up losing 38-44. We held our own against some of the most veteran teams in all of FRC as Wildstang has won three national championships and Team Hammond has won four!

While competing as a semifinalist is the most success we have ever had at a regional competition, the team had more accolades coming our way. During the final awards ceremony, Huskie Robotics was awarded the Gracious Professionalism award for outstanding assistance to other teams both on and off the field. FIRST describes Gracious Professionalism as:

Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

We helped several teams by giving them parts and materials and by helping them program their robot. Several team members spent most of the competition assisting a particular rookie team who only had one teacher and one student present. We helped this team rewire their robot, get their ball collector and shooter to be functional, pass inspection, and write all their software. In addition, two members of our team stepped in as field players for this team! Their efforts did not go unnoticed and the judges commented that “while you usually want at St. Bernard to come and rescue you, they would prefer a Huskie!”

None of this comes easily. As one of the three teachers mentoring the team, I put almost everything else in my life on hold for three months. I’ve missed every Global Physics Department Meeting this year because I’m at school until 9 pm on Wednesdays with the team. Every Saturday that I’m not at a Science Olympiad Event or a QuarkNet Particle Physics Masterclass at Fermilab, I’m at school all day with the team. I sleep little and spend my nights on the phone or online researching, planning, purchasing, debating, or counseling. I do all of this because I believe that what these students get out this program is the most inspirational, valuable, and rewarding experience of their high school careers. They are inspired to pursue STEM-related careers; they gain the confidence that they can create something remarkable; they learn to lead through influence rather than authority; they embody the spirit of Gracious Professionalism. Every student on the team has the opportunity to go pro in this sport.

If you’ve never witnessed a FIRST Robotics Competition, go see one; you still have three weeks. Volunteer to help a local team or event. Or, if you are just crazy enough and I know that many of you are, start your own FIRST Robotics team.

Near-Space Ballooning County Institute Session

My colleague and I, who advise our school’s Physics Club, volunteered to share our our experiences over the past two years designing, launching, and retrieving near-space balloons. Last year’s balloon reached an altitude of over 100,000 feet and captured amazing photos, video, and temperature and radiation data. We discussed the technologies involved in near-space ballooning such as GPS receivers, microcontrollers, programmable cameras, and sensors. We also shared different approaches to designing near-space balloons that fit a variety of budgets. Finally, we discussed this year’s project in which younger students are designing and building experiments to be launched as part of this spring’s balloon launch.

The slides we presented are below as is our handout with links to various resources. This is a fantastic project for a group of students to tackle. If you decide to try to launch a balloon, please feel free to contact me.

Near Space Ballooning

Useful and Interesting Links for Space Ballooning