Pocket antenna spurs successful STEM outreach effort at COSMIAC: UNM Newsroom

The idea of ​​show and tell is a proven way to engage students, especially when teaching complex topics. And a research center at the University of New Mexico is taking full advantage of this concept, with promising results.

Starting last year, COSMIAC, an aerospace-related research center in the School of Engineering, began building and using a small device called “LEctenna” as a demonstration tool and gift to several middle and high schools. local.

The LEctenna is an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Solar Power Incremental Research and Demonstrations (SSPIDR) project developed in conjunction with the Naval Research Laboratory. It is a rectifier antenna (rectenna) with a light emitting diode (LED). This device, which looks like hairpins attached to a small light, indicates the presence of microwave radio frequency (RF) signals, such as wireless signals from a Wi-Fi router or telephone. It can also detect radiation seeping through the edges of a microwave.

The LEctenna is only a few centimeters long, is enclosed in a plastic tube and contains two diodes and an LED. The construction of the diodes results in a net positive voltage when it detects frequencies in the range that includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, causing the LED to light up.

The Lectenna is only part of the commitment; there is also a comprehensive presentation that COSMIAC organizes for classrooms with an electronics demonstration box called Beam Box that sends RF signals and where students can do hands-on projects, allowing them to see how the technology works. The presentation focuses on how space solar power works and the efforts of the AFRL SSPIDR project. In particular, it focuses on the concept of capturing solar energy in space and using microwaves to transmit the energy to the Earth’s surface.

“The comprehensive presentation really brings out that ‘wow’ factor,” said Steve Lindsley, a COSMIAC research engineer and graduate student in mechanical engineering who was involved in school outreach.

“This is a fun and simple demonstration of science in action, and we’ve had lots of positive feedback from teachers and students so far,” said Will Hamel, research engineer and student. undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. “We look forward to going to other schools this spring.”

The outreach presentation is the brainchild of electrical engineering graduate student and COSMIAC research engineer Dante Orona Yang, working with former COSMIAC research engineer Kimberly Faris, who organized the program with the schools. Hamel and McKenna Collins, an electrical and mechanical engineering undergraduate, helped build the Beam Box and are presenters for the COSMIAC outreach team.

“It is very important that students are exposed to STEM early. It was outreach programs like this that put me on the engineering path I am on today,” said Orona Yang. “As space solar power matures, these students will be the scientists and engineers who implement this in the future, which is why it’s important for them to be exposed to the concept now.”

Outreach uses simple demonstrations to illustrate the much larger and more complex technology essential to operational solar power transmission that the SSPIDR project is researching. The SSPIDR’s ultimate mission is to develop five key technologies: deployable structures, power generation, thermal management, RF beam and metrology. The goal of this research is to pave the way for the development of a new power system for forward operating bases that will replace thousands of gallons of fuel and large generators with a rectenna that receives solar power. radiated from orbit.

Future applications for space solar power go beyond just military applications, Orona Yang said. This could supply power to remote operating bases in Antarctica, supply power to disaster areas and even provide enough power for national grids. Power transmission technology also has applications for powering drones, charging mobile devices or even medical implants.

The awareness program was presented to seven schools and reached more than 1,000 students. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, presentations were a mix of in-person and online presentations. The schools involved so far are Eagle Ridge Middle School, Acoma Middle School, James Monroe Middle School, Albuquerque Academy, Cibola High School, Rio Rancho Middle School and Eldorado High School. The presentations were primarily aimed at students enrolled in science, math or robotics courses.

COSMIAC staff members say they hope to visit more schools in person this spring because the engagement factor is higher with the hands-on demonstrations. So far, approximately 2,300 LEctennas have been built, many of which have been distributed to schools and more will be distributed in the spring of 2022.

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