Monday, April 14, 2014

Symposium topics include ions, Rube Goldberg, physical fitness and NASA

Steve Evans, Thomas Clark, and Trevor Pratt looked ready for work – neatly cropped hair, slacks, shirts with collars, and neckties.

They stood in front of a large poster board bearing the title, “Ion Drives in Application.” Suffice it to say these guys knew their stuff as they explained their research during the 2014 School of Science, Mathematics and Engineering Symposium.

“The application of using ion engines as a tugboat to go to Mars is possible,” Evans explained.

When asking the three men who would like to go to Mars someday, Clark piped in, “Dibs!”

At the risk of butchering Pratt’s explanation, an ion drive is an engine that works by ionizing noble, or electrically neutral, gasses like xenon and argon, which are attracted to two grids at the end of an engine. When the ionized particles enter the space between the two grids and there is a resulting change in voltage, they immediately accelerate through the grid at a rate of about 30-50 kilometers per second.

In short, it’s a type of engine that gives one heck of a boost to whatever object it is attached.

You’re probably wondering what guys like these, who as of the symposium in April, were pursuing their Associate of Pre Engineering degrees, want to do in life.

“I really like doing cool things,” Evans said. Trying to break it down for the lay person, he said he’d like to build something useful or “sexy,” in terms of marketability, in the world of high-tech gadgetry.

Clark was a little more vague in his answer, which was to design something “cutting edge,” maybe along the lines of aerodynamics. But it might be Pratt people want to keep an eye on.

“I want to save the world,” he said. And he was serious.

Pratt is interested in aerospace defense and in finding a way, like maybe inventing an energy shield that can keep nuclear missiles from entering U.S. airspace.

These are the type of students that symposium guest speaker Paul Karner hopes will take his place someday. Karner is currently the senior program manager over avionics and control systems for Utah-based ATK, specializing in aerospace and defense technologies.

Karner gave a stern warning about the direction this country is headed with relationship to the subjects of math, science and engineering.

“It’s not easy. For some it comes easier, for others it takes a lot of work,” he said. “It’s a road that is becoming less and less traveled by our younger folks. Any country that leads in science, engineering and technology is what leads the world. I don’t mean in a militaristic sense, I mean that in a peaceful sense. We as a nation just simply are not producing enough scientists and engineers right now. We’re in a significant deficit.”

Throughout the all-day symposium students and faculty gave presentations and listened to lectures.

Perhaps the most interactive poster of the day was presented by a group of students in SLCC’s Fitness Technician Program, under the direction during the symposium of instructor Chad Harbaugh.

Clad in T-shirts, sweatpants and Lycra, this energetic group of students put willing observers through several tests that measure or determine an athlete’s susceptibility to injury. The name of their poster was, “Determining a More Reliable Athlete: Functional Movement Screening.”

Through the use of very specific, simple yet demanding movements, these fitness and physiology gurus-in-the-making were actually able to identify several athletes on SLCC’s own baseball and softball teams who needed to check in with their doctors, trainers or physical therapists, perhaps saving them from future injury.

“There’s lots of personal trainers out there who don’t know what they’re doing,” explained group participant Arthur Hockwald. “You walk into a gym and see what they’re doing and you cringe.”