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In late January, more than 100 high school students from across the U.S. had their eyes and ears directed toward Earth’s orbit as participants in the Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge. The competition finale, which took place at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., on January 26, involved 27 teams of high school students with a penchant for computer science and robotics. Students were charged with programming software codes that enabled miniature basketball-sized satellites, called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites), aboard the International Space Station to find tools, reach imaginary asteroids and collect a sample of Helium-3 and deposit it in a virtual processing station.
The final heats of the tournament took place aboard the orbiting International Space Station as the competing teams watched live on screens at the MIT campus while astronauts aboard the station tested the teams’ codes. “We thought it would be cool to program robots in space,” admits Matthew Goldman, a senior at Bernards High School in Bernardsville and a member of Storming Robots, an organization in Branchburg that builds students' engineering abilities to prepare them for future competitive markets, especially in engineering fields. Storming Robots was one of the winning teams at the Zero Robotics competition.
“Being able to try to make a computer that can think is interesting,” says Avery Katko, a home-schooled 17-year-old from Long Valley and a member of Storming Robots. “I’m particularly interested in linguistics and in artificial intelligence that can make computers communicate using human language.” Katko takes his passion for linguistics to even greater heights as a hobbyist in conlanging, the art of creating entirely new languages.
Both Goldman and Katko plan to pursue technology-related careers. This and other competitions that Goldman has entered with his Storming Robots team have “definitely increased my interest in computer science,” he says. “I applied to engineering schools and plan to major in computer science.” Adds Katko: “I get to apply all the stuff I learn in math to a real-world thing. Actually making a robot do something is really neat.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and accessing “Storming Robots.”
Careers in engineering and computer science are hot right now, especially with the nation’s focus on better science education in high school and preparing teens for the technology-based economy. NJ Next Stop asked a few experts to help define these careers.
Mike Lydon is the chief technology officer at TopCoder, a competitive software development community that designs online programming competitions. Lydon describes computer science like this:
In my opinion, computer science is studying how to utilize computation systems to answer questions and to solve problems. These problems might be anything from answering research questions to automating complex processes to analyzing large data sets, and even predicting future events. The practical applications of computer science are absolutely everywhere and then everywhere in between. The study of computer science can both leverage and build computational thinking skills, which are general, or "core" skills that can be applied to all areas of software development. Computational thinking skills can be built effectively with real experiences such as playing games, puzzle solving, math studies, lateral thinking exercises, even vehicle maintenance, warehouse picking and packing – any sort of experience with physical or mechanical processes. Computer science study converts these computational thinking skills into more tangible computational problem solving skills that can be [useful in] every single industry and in every area of scientific research and exploration.
Elizabeth Mabrey is the founder of Storming Robots, an organization in Branchburg that builds students' engineering abilities to prepare them for future competitive markets, especially in engineering fields. She describes engineering like this:
I would like to summarize engineering in five words: creativity, computational thinking, analysis and doing. It is the art of applying computational thinking skills and creativity in problem analysis to various technical applications. Engineering is different from a pure science discipline in the very essence of application. With engineering, you put theory into application, making theory come alive. We are living in a world of ever-increasing technological complexity. It demands us to face the challenge not only to preserve it, but also to further advance it. Therefore, it is important for us to be not only just engineering literate, but also engineering savvy. Does engineering have to be only for a selective number of kids who are good in math and science? The truth is no. The engineering process is the core of thinking for many aspects of our lives—the ability to analyze intricate problems, to be creative and to apply, are skills required in many professions like doctors, lawyers, school teachers and business owners.
Students in both college and high school in New Jersey have a need for speed—and automotive innovation. Five senior engineering students at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken are busy preparing a plug-in electric car with carbon fiber shell. Meanwhile, at Livingston High School in Livingston, Team Lancers is building its Concept 1 vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. Both teams will compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas 2012, a competition from March 29 to April 1 in Houston that brings together more than 1,000 high school and college students who are passionate about finding solutions to global energy challenges. In this case, their focus is fuel-efficient vehicles.
The Stevens Institute team members are feeling confident about their entry, which will compete against other vehicles seeking to reduce drag and maximize efficiency. Senior Steve Rawson said in a press release, “We expect to do quite well. With some of the initial numbers we have from our design, we look to finish with about 400 or 500 miles/kWh and first in the class."
Shell’s competition is a place for future leaders in science and engineering to showcase their knowledge and skills, and to prepare for their careers with companies like Rolls-Royce, Chrysler and Caterpillar, which have offered jobs to and hired past Eco-Marathon participants. “The future will require a mosaic of energy solutions, and we believe we’re contributing to a smarter energy future with more responsible options for our customers and credible advice for our markets and policymakers,” said Mark Singer, global project manager at Shell. To check out the competition and watch videos from last year’s event, go to http://www.shell.com/home/content/ecomarathon/americas/media/.
If you are considering a career in engineering, here are some potential job titles and descriptions.
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Advice 101 column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Engineering Jobs and Titles.”