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Trine students, professor participate in Hackathon

By Jarod Davis
Communication ’20

The world has many problems, and a recent event gave Trine University engineering students the opportunity to try and develop solutions.

From Oct. 18-20, five Trine students traveled to the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, for the NASA International Space Apps annual “hackathon.” According to NASA, the event includes 29,000 participants at 225 events in 71 countries.

Hackathon Trine studentsTrine students, along with other participants, had two days to develop and present solutions to various challenges assigned to them at the event. Five Trine mechanical and computer engineering students made the trip: Ismar Chew of Indianapolis; Timothy Mayer of Endicott, New York; James Gamage of Zionsville, Indiana; Evan Zielke of Auburn, Indiana; and Nicholas Soule of Bremen, Indiana.

Andrea Mitofsky, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Trine, also attended the event and participated in the challenges.

Zielke and his group were part of the “Build a Planet” challenge to develop a board game along with a website to teach children about planets. Mitofsky, Gamage and Soule were part of the “Internet on the Ocean” challenge.

“The team I was on looked at the feasibility of using lasers to send internet signals from undersea fiber optics cables to floating stations on the surface of the ocean, and these stations would then relay the internet signal out over radio waves,” said Mitofsky.

Mayer and Chew chose “The Memory-Maker Challenge,” which emphasized the creation and use of mechanical-based machinery in space. Their developed system is meant to be used in a probe sent to Venus.

“After a great deal of brainstorming, research and discussion, we came up with an idea for storing numerical values within a gear-train system,” Mayer said. “Oversimplifying somewhat, the number would be stored as the number of turns the gears have gone through, and the number could be extracted from memory and transmitted back to Earth by running the gears in reverse.”

Ismar Chew and Doug WheelockThe students said they had a great time participating in hackathon, enjoying not only the fast-paced event, but the opportunity to interact with new people and experience NASA Glenn.

“It was also super cool to get to spend the weekend at NASA Glenn. We got a few tours of the SLOPE moon-terrain-simulation lab, and of the Zero Gravity Research Facility,” Mayer said. “We got to hear from astronaut Doug Wheelock about what it's like to be an astronaut, and from Data Analyst Dr. Nelson Vargas, who gave a presentation on how social media can be used to examine the public's feelings toward a topic, such as NASA and space travel.”

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge will return Oct. 2-4, 2020, for its 10th year.