New Program for Young Engineers on the RISE

Lincoln Laboratory debuted a new outreach program this July―a summer workshop instructing students how to build small radar systems. The Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers (LLRISE) program focused on radar technology, which is especially fitting due to the Laboratory’s long history and expertise in radar systems.

Students and instructors of LLRISE 2012The instructors (lower half) pose with the students (upper half) of the first ever LLRISE program.

The project-based enrichment program was developed from a popular three-week class offered during MIT’s Independent Activity Period between semesters and taught by Laboratory technical staff. The course was slightly modified to suit high school students, yet retained the challenging nature of the curriculum.

Juniors from across New England applied for one of twelve openings at this two-week workshop. The hands-on program allowed students to work in a state-of-the-art laboratory, work with highly talented scientists, and live in an MIT dormitory while learning how to build small radar systems. The intent of this program was to impart not only an understanding of radar systems, but also a realization that engineering is about problem solving and applying knowledge in innovative ways.

LLRISE 2012 building a radarInstructor Raoul Ouedraogo (left) shows the students the proper wiring needed on a circuit board for their self-built radar.

Students began learning about the basics of radar on the first day after a tour of the Laboratory and the Flight Facility, and started building a small radar as early as the second day of the program.

Interspersed between building and homework were classes integral to radar systems, such as electromagnetics, mechanics of Doppler radar, modular radio frequency design, Matlab, pulse compression, signal processing, and introduction to antennas.  The students also received instruction on how to present a project and how to stage experiments.

Technical staff throughout the Laboratory volunteered to serve as instructors for this course, including:

  • Mabel Ramirez and Beverly Lykins, both of the Intelligence, Test, and Evaluation Group
  • Nestor Lopez of the Advanced Concepts and Technologies Group
  • Shakti Davis and Gregory Ciccarelli, both of the Airborne Radar Systems and Techniques Group
  • Raoul Ouedraogo of the Aerospace Sensor Technology Group
  • Shelley Scruggs of the Space Situational Awareness Group
LLRISE 2012 Basics of radar courseInstructor Mabel Ramirez explains the basics of radar on the first day of courses.

Brad Perry and Alan Fenn, both of the Advanced Capabilities and Systems Group, developed this course for MIT students and as an in-house course for Lincoln Laboratory scientists. Perry joined the students for lunch to discuss career exploration during lunch breaks.  Fenn provided an in-depth tour of the antenna test range facility. Both Perry and Fenn assisted Chiamaka Agbasi-Porter, the K-12 Outreach Coordinator for Lincoln Laboratory, in developing the course for the high-school level, although few changes in the lecture material and build assembly process were made.

Porter, who works in the Communications and Community Outreach Office, coordinated all coursework, transportation, meals, and schedules involved in this program. She said "It was great to see the program coming together. I’m happy that the first year was successful, and I intend to build on that success and make the program even better next year." She added that her favorite part of the program was "watching high school students sit through a college-level course, understand it, and then use that information immediately."

Ramirez, an instructor, said "The students had a great amount of homework every night, and yet each student rose to the challenge, completed all assignments, and kept working hard to understand the course material." Ramirez indicated she found the students’ efforts inspiring. She said, "It reminded me of what a good exercise it is to try and understand something different and challenging and coming out with a great solution at the end. Applying that knowledge can be very exciting and empowering!"

LLRISE 2012 students test their self-built radarsThe students organized experiments in order to test their radars. Tests involved measuring the movement of a pendulum, an electric fan, and a bicycle.

Faced with challenging material and hours of extra work, the students were enthusiastic about learning, building, and working in teams, reflected in the team names chosen (Phoenix Risers, Circuit City, Lumpy Space Rainbow Ponies, and Dish Network.) For their long hours of hard work, the students were rewarded with some downtime in the form of a presentation by the MIT Admissions Office, an MIT campus tour, and a trip to the MIT Museum. The learning process continued while the students prepared, rehearsed, and gave presentations at the MIT Museum and a technology expo at Lincoln Laboratory.

The students agreed that this first-ever summer course was a success for a variety of reasons. The uniqueness of the program was enjoyed by a student who said, "LLRISE is something you can’t find every day.  I don’t think I would have ever built a radar if it wasn’t for this program." Another student appreciated the program as preparation for college life. He said, "LLRISE gives you the college experience and teaches you to work with others as a team.  The lectures are on a collegiate level and it exposes you to college life before you actually go. I would recommend LLRISE to other students.  It was a great experience." A third student said "On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this program a 5, because it was great and I learned a lot. The lab experience was memorable."  Porter hopes the program will draw enough attention from students in underserved communities that she can consider offering the opportunity to more students next summer. Porter concluded by saying, "It would be wonderful to make this program an annual outreach event."

Posted August 2012

top of page