Youth@HamRadio.Fun: New Kid in Town
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
ARRL Youth Editor
Moving to a new town is a big undertaking, whether as a family, a temporary move to study abroad or get work experience while in college -- or even moving to college itself. Although it’s never easy to let go of the old and become acquainted with a new place, you never know what amazing opportunities can lie ahead.
Last month, I wrote about my move to Socorro, New Mexico to start a co-op program at the Very Large Array (VLA), part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. This area is a natural wonder -- there are miles of trails to hike and bike, and cliffs to climb. New Mexico is full of open doors in the world of technology and engineering, as it is home to Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Lab, the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research and many more observatories. Coming to New Mexico is a stroke of luck for any engineer, because chances are that someone you meet might have close ties to your future career.
And then there’s the Amateur Radio aspect. Although the number of people per square mile in New Mexico is the 5th lowest in the country, the number of active hams per capita seems to be the highest. With the high number of electrical engineers in the state, it’s no wonder that many of them have their Amateur Radio license. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting ARRL Rocky Mountain Division Director Brian Mileshosky, N5ZGT, who is an electrical engineer at Sandia, and Paul Harden, NA5N, a QRP enthusiast and contest manager for several QRP contests, as well as a highly regarded local historian who also happens to work at the VLA.
Enough about me -- here’s what’s going on in the area.
Charter School Science Fair
At a meeting of the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (a group of people interested in radio astronomy), Jon Spargo, KC5NTW, invited members to a science fair and ham radio demonstration at the Cottonwood Valley Charter School, where Jon teaches a ham radio class to some of the brightest students that I’ve ever met. At the science fair, experiments with lemon batteries, computer programs, bacteria cultures and baking soda volcanoes lined a large room. In a separate building, John had a ham radio station running. The station had both HF and VHF radios, with a G5RV dipole antenna for HF and a large vertical antenna for VHF. This was a great setup for getting the kids on the air to make a few contacts.
After finding out what a charter school was -- a publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority -- I believe they are one of the best inlets for Amateur Radio in schools. Charter schools play by different rules than public schools, and can implement new and revolutionary methods of teaching for students from all backgrounds. What better way is there to learn about electricity and math than through Amateur Radio?
The young hams in this school are on the track to upgrading their licenses -- most of them have already passed the Technician test, and are studying for their General. There are a few studying for their Technician license, including a bright second grader!
Earlier this month, I attended a meeting of the New Mexico Tech Amateur Radio Association, or TARA. As I mentioned last month, TARA is the collegiate Amateur Radio club at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, aptly nicknamed New Mexico Tech. There I met Billy Valliant, KF5IVN, a mechanical engineering major.
The first TARA meeting I attended was “packed” -- five people in a small room is almost too many. Besides Billy and I, three other students showed up! We had a roundtable discussion about what ham radio is and how it can be used. Billy left to go to another meeting while I stayed and answered the newbies’ questions. They were all very curious and eager to become a part of the club, which is great news for TARA.
Billy and I were the only attendees of the next two meetings. I spent most of this time getting some antennas in the air. I found some old wire lying in a box, as well as a UHF female connector. In a few minutes, I had created a 40 meter dipole that we strung up and tried out. Needless to say, the monstrosity of oxidized wire, solder-globbed connections and a mixture of duct and electrical tape keeping most of it together wasn’t actually resonant on any Amateur Radio band. But I could still hear signals, which was enough for me to declare the antenna a success.
TARA also has a tall HF vertical. I had no idea what type or frequency it was built for, but that didn’t stop me from hooking it up and finding out! The aluminum tubing slid into telescoping sections about 20 or 25 feet high. I anchored it to a wooden post with rope. I wished I had some radials for it, as any vertical antenna needs a good ground counterpoise made of radials to work properly. Regardless, I hooked some coax cable between the antenna and my portable HF radio. I swept it through the HF bands and found it was a pretty good match in the 40, 20, 17, 15 and 10 meter bands, but not enough to safely transmit without blowing something up; however, the radio has an integrated antenna tuner, so any mismatch was taken care of. TARA was finally on the air again.
In April, the local Amateur Radio club and TARA are co-hosting a licensing “blitz” session -- a whole weekend of classes, workshops and practice tests, culminating in a licensing exam. The community and school are already showing interest in the event. Some of Jon’s charter school students are participating (one is trying for his Extra), as well as college students and people as far away as Albuquerque. It will be interesting to see how a cram session like that will work: As a student, you’re told to distribute your studying over a long period of time, soaking up information slowly but surely, but that never really happens. Overnight and over-weekend cram sessions before tests and finals are all over the academic environment, and they sometimes have their benefits. We’ll see if that holds true for the blitz.
Look for more news from other young hams across the country in next month’s article. Check the Youth News archive for previous articles on young people in ham radio.
--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a junior majoring in electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, currently doing a co-op at the VLA in New Mexico. He has been interested in wireless communications from a young age, and welcomes e-mail from readers.