Students have engineering on their radar

During a summer workshop, students learned how to build their own Doppler radars.

By Meg Cichon | Communications and Community Outreach Office

"I've seen a lot of Doppler radar experiments during this program, but I've never seen anyone dance," said Raoul Ouedraogo, member of the technical staff in the Advanced Sensors and Techniques Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and volunteer for the Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers (LLRISE) program. "How did you all come up with that idea?"

"Experimenting with the radars that we made was fun, so we decided to measure the intensity of our dance moves," said one student. Several participants stood up and demonstrated the twists and turns that resulted in the burst of colors on a PowerPoint display graph that represented radar-collected data. After the brief dance break, the LLRISE participants completed their final presentations on what they discovered during the two-week workshop.

MIT ATHack 2017Students used soldering tools to assemble a circuit board for their radar.

LLRISE, now in its sixth year, is a science, technology, engineering, and math program that challenges students to learn about and build their own Doppler and range radar. Rising high school seniors from across the United States can apply to fill 18 seats. Accepted students received free room and board at university dormitories in Boston, Massachusetts, and had access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and skilled professionals. New to LLRISE in 2017 was LLRISE for Teachers, a special workshop that allowed educators to absorb aspects of the radar program that they can incorporate into their own classrooms.

The student workshop began with an overview of Lincoln Laboratory and an introductory radar course, followed by a tour of the Laboratory's Technology Office Innovation Laboratory, where participants learned about methods to build their radars, such as three-dimensional (3D) printing, computer aided design (CAD), and circuit board population. Throughout the two weeks, Lincoln Laboratory technical staff lectured students on radar system concepts, such as modular radio frequency design, antenna design, target ranging and detection, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging, and Matlab computing. Participants also toured several Lincoln Laboratory facilities, such as the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Flight Test Facility and the Lincoln Laboratory Supercomputing Center.

MIT ATHack 2017The Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers students and teachers toured the Lincoln Laboratory Flight Test Facility, which houses several Laboratory-operated aircraft.

"The students gain knowledge by simply doing," said Spencer Johnson, instructor for LLRISE and member of the technical staff in the Ballistic Missile Defense Integration Group at Lincoln Laboratory. "It's gratifying to observe the students' excitement and growth as they move from week one, when they are introduced to a concept, to week two, when they use those concepts to perform an experiment with their own radar."

Students were assigned to teams of three, and each team was tasked with designing and building a radar. In addition to nightly homework, groups completed radar experiments, such as measuring the movement of an electric fan, to ensure their radars performed properly. "It was really cool to see the concepts that we studied in the classroom translate into real-life results," said student Becca Suchower. "For example, by using Matlab to translate the data, we could see Doppler effects as visual graphs."

MIT ATHack 2017Students conducted an experiment on their radar (red box) by spinning a wheel to determine whether the radar detects distance and motion.

After a hard day's work, students enjoyed several LLRISE-sponsored activities, such as touring Boston and MIT campus, attending barbeques, and participating in game nights. On the final day of the program, each team gave a presentation on one of the several radar concepts discussed during the program.

By the end of the workshop, both students and teachers reported that despite the challenging concepts and hard work, the LLRISE program was fun and rewarding. Said student Matthew Weich, "I grew a lot in two weeks. If I could change anything about the program, it would be that we could stay longer and master more science."

Solar Panels MIT Lincoln LaboratoryThe 2017 Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers participants.

Posted August 2017

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