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HamSCI 2020 Workshop Successfully Reworked as a Virtual Event


Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the March 20 – 21 HamSCI Workshop went on as scheduled, moving to a free, all-digital webinar workshop. The theme of the 2020 workshop was “The Auroral Connection — How does the aurora affect amateur radio, and what can we learn about the aurora from radio techniques?” Organizer and University of Scranton professor Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, told ARRL that he was quite happy with the outcome, after the in-person workshop had to be called off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In some ways, it was good for us,” Frissell said. “We actually got many more participants than had we just held it in person.” Expectations for the live event were for about 100 participants. Online, Zoom — the webinar platform used for the workshop — reported 290 unique logins from 24 countries. After cancellation of the in-person workshop, Frissell had to scramble to make the virtual event a reality.

“Some of the challenges included making sure we had an appropriate Zoom license,” he said. “We also needed to train presenters and panelists how to use Zoom. I had the webinar running in practice mode for about 2 or 3 days before the workshop, and I let presenters log in whenever they wanted to test things out. It was actually quite fun. Sort of like talking on the radio. I would be around the computer and wait for calls. When people called in, I would answer their questions regarding Zoom and make sure their audio worked fine.”

Another hurdle to overcome was figuring out how to convert poster presentations to electronic format. “The Aurorasaurus group really helped out with that,” Frissell said, noting that Aurorasaurus Project manager Laura Brandt came up with a method for presenting the posters electronically and made sure the poster session ran smoothly.

In a blog post, Brandt called the workshop “the first of its kind in heliophysics.” The Aurorasaurus Project theme is “Reporting Auroras from the Ground Up.”

“The annual HamSCI Workshop provided the perfect opportunity to introduce citizen scientists and scientists from the aurora and ham radio communities and build connections for future collaboration,” Brandt said. “Both aurora and ham radio citizen scientists work closely with the Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere, but aurora folks tend to think about how what we see reveals aspects of the ionosphere, ham radio operators tend to think about what radio waves can tell us about the ionosphere.”

Oral presentations were delivered as originally scheduled and in the same format, as if they were being delivered at the in-person workshop.

The workshop served as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project that’s funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to Frissell as its principal investigator. The project seeks to harness the power of a network of radio amateurs to better understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

Workshop speakers included Elizabeth MacDonald, the NASA researcher who founded and leads the Aurorasaurus citizen science project. James LaBelle, a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth University and auroral radio physicist, discussed radio signatures of the aurora. Phil Erickson, W1PJE, of Haystack Observatory in Massachusetts spoke on “Amateur digital mode based remote sensing: FT8 use as a radar signal of opportunity for ionospheric characterization.” David Hallidy, K2DH, a retired microwave engineer and well-known for his work in auroral mode propagation, discussed his practical experiences of using the aurora for radio communication.

Contester and DX Engineering CEO Tim Duffy, K3LR, who was to be the banquet speaker,spoke on the topic, “Let’s Push the Exploration of the Ionosphere to the Next Level.”

Workshop presentations are being archived