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Amateur Radio Goes to College


Many electronics and communications industry engineers and managers got their start with Amateur Radio, which provided hands-on, system-level experience that proved valuable in their professional lives. Through hours spent in radio clubs crackling with activity, ham radio stayed right with them through their college and university studies. Things are a bit different today, but academia is making room for — and use of — Amateur Radio in the classroom and lab. This was plain at the 2013 International Microwave Symposium, held in early June in Seattle. The event drew more than 12,000 engineers, educators and students, among them for the first time representatives of the ARRL. At this “World Series of RF,” topics and systems covered frequencies from 500 kHz through several hundred gigahertz.

One college-level program using Amateur Radio is at the University of Colorado. Led by Professor Zorana Popovic, ACØXJ, students gain experience with real RF by obtaining their ham tickets and building a NorCal 40 QRP transceiver. This provides the students with the practical experience of building, troubleshooting, and using radio communication systems in a way textbooks and simulation cannot. At the IMS, a University of Colorado team won the “wireless harvesting” competition by 7 dB. The goal of the event was to extract power from RF fields at 915 MHz and 2.45 GHz with a field strength of about 1 µW/cm2 and power a 2.2 kΩ load.

At McGill University, Zorana Popovic’s daughter Nina Popovic, KDØPJI, is exploring dielectric mirrors in the terahertz region, using silicon instead of the usual metal surfaces. She is experimenting with curving the surface and attempting to determine radiation and scattering patterns while struggling with the lack of test equipment at these frequencies. Nina Popovic has been into electronics since she was in single digits, and was even doing her own soldering at the age of five.

Another example is a liquid metal antenna array by Andy Morishita, WH6DUG, of the University of Hawaii-Honolulu. A master’s degree student, Morishita is the communications lead for the university’s upcoming Ho’oponopono CubeSat launch later this year. His reconfigurable Yagi-Uda monopole arrays at 2 to 4 GHz used tubes of GaInSn — a liquid metal alloy — to form antennas and filters.

From the many professional visitors to the ARRL booth, a consistent message was received loud and clear, said Ward Silver, NØAX, an engineer and ARRL contributing editor, who attended the event. “Senior-level professionals frequently noted that to contribute in industry, graduating engineers need more practical and system-level experience of the sort that can be provided by Amateur Radio,” Silver recounted. The need for experience RF personnel on all levels is urgent, he pointed out, and industry professionals “were very encouraged to see the ARRL in attendance at the conference and urged us to attend future IMS conferences.”

The IEEE is getting behind its own initiative. The Microwave Theory and Techniques (MTT) Society Technical Committee for HF/VHF/UHF Technology has agreed to form a sub-committee led by Rick Campbell, KK7B, at Portland State University, and IEEE Fellow Robert Caverly, WB4PWZ, at Villanova, to help promote Amateur Radio within the post-secondary academic environment. Other MTT Society technical committees and commercial sponsors supervised student design competitions at the event.

Silver feels that the League, with a century of practical radio know-how and an extensive collection of literature and training materials, can be a partner in this effort to promote Amateur Radio and provide a valuable service to industry at the same time. The ARRL already has a web page for educators and students that includes a promotional flyer describing various technical references available from the League and from the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB).

“College and university students are some of the most enthusiastic and innovative people you will ever find. They are hungry for experience and have already chosen career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (“STEM”),” Silver said. “Should they become amateurs, they are likely to be ‘hams for life,’ contributing to both their chosen profession and the Amateur Service for decades. — Thanks to Ward Silver, NØAX



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