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Student Arun Nagpal develops new ENG 100 section to spotlight space science

UM-SEDS co-President Arun Nagpal develops ENG 100 section to expose freshman to space science and atmospheric sensing.| Long Read
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IMAGE:  Arun Nagpal (left), Dr. Aaron Ridley (middle), and Abbhinav Muralidharan (right).

For incoming freshman, Engineering (ENGR) 100 provides an initial glimpse into the world of collegiate engineering design. Though all offerings of this course contain common core elements, such as a central design challenge and technical communication requirements, each section focuses on a distinct engineering discipline that ranges from music signal processing to underwater robotics.

Starting this upcoming winter semester, a new ENGR 100 section will be implemented that spotlights previously under-represented topics: atmospheric and space science. The idea first stemmed from a discussion between the council of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and AE Professor Peter Washabaugh, who saw an opportunity to increase freshman engagement in space research through hands-on course-work. As space science and aerospace engineering are heavily intertwined, Dr. Washabaugh considered this increased engagement a boon for the entire Michigan aero community.

Arun Nagpal, electrical engineering junior and co-President of SEDS, ran with the idea:

“The impetus for creating this class was to encourage students to get involved in space science and atmospheric sensing. ENGR 100 is supposed to give students exposure to the full spectrum of Michigan engineering options and I realized [after talking with Professor Washabaugh] that there was no section that captured the work of the Climate and Space Sciences (CLaSP) department. I wanted to introduce freshman to the idea that the atmosphere is a living, breathing thing of scientific interest.”

 

"I wanted to introduce freshman to the idea that the atmosphere is a living, breathing thing of scientific interest."Arun Nagpal

Together with CLaSP Professor Aaron Ridley and EE Masters student Abbhinav Muralidharan, Arun developed a series of labs aimed at incrementally exposing students to the electrical and software skills they would need to design and program an atmospheric instrument. He notes:

“We took inspiration from the master’s level space instrumentation course CLaSP 584, which develops a circuit board with atmospheric sensing capabilities. We took that circuit board and broke it down into discrete parts that could be replicated by students in weekly labs. [The students] will learn the principles of sensing, [Arduino] coding and microprocessor theory and end up with payloads that can measure temperature, humidity, acceleration, and pressure.”

Though grounded in a fundamental board design, students will have the opportunity to modify their payloads to add additional sensors and functionality. They will gain hands-on experience soldering components to breakout boards and will experiment with the best approaches to processing their data.

After completing their boards, students will have the opportunity to see their instruments in action aboard high-altitude balloons. Arun explains:

“We are going to partner with the Michigan Balloon Recovery and Satellite Test Bed (MBuRST) design team to launch student payloads near the end of the semester. The payloads will be packaged on balloons four at a time [so that teams can reference each other’s data sets and subtract out noise]. The last couple of weeks of the course will emphasize flight review and [effective data presentation]. At the same time, students will gain practice explaining their work professionally through writing technical memos with their labs.”

Overall, Arun feels that this course intimately ties into the mission of SEDS:

“SEDS is all about advocating for space and spaceflight. An important part of that is making sure people have the education and opportunity to find a passion in the industry. We wanted to give freshman greater exposure to space science, with the knowledge that it may come to influence their eventual choice of major and career.”

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Ariel Sandberg
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Metal rods that are part of the molecular epitaxy beam apparatus at Michigan Engineering. Photo by Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

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