Projects, Jobs, and Teaching

Ancient Watercraft Design Analysis
(CMRAE, MIT)

Neutron Interferometer
(Nuclear Engineering Senior Design Project)

BEAR
(Vecna)

LIBS-SERS Spectroscopy
(Vecna)

FATPAK
(Vecna)

2.2 MeV Cyclotron
(Nuclear Engineering Senior Thesis)

LED Light Arrays

Other Visual Art

RFID Tag Implantation

Giant My Little Pony

Physics/Engineering Teaching
(Fletcher-Maynard School, Cambridge)

Analog Robotics Teaching
(MIT SPLASH Program)

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Ancient Watercraft Design Analysis

PHOTO / DONNA COVENEY

As a four-year undergraduate research project, I analyzed the mechanical and materials characteristics of pre-Columbian Ecuadorian balsa rafts in conjunction with the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology (CMRAE) at MIT. There is strong evidence Ecuadorian traders used these rafts to transport large quantities of goods between Ecuador and western Mexico. A number of sixteenth and seventeenth century European documents describe the materials and technologies employed in these rafts.

1619 drawing of a balsa raft by the Dutch envoy Joris van Spilbergen.

In the summer of 2004, three teammates and I built a three-meter replica balsa raft with a carrying capacity of one ton. We sailed this raft on the Charles River in Cambridge to empirically examine balsa rafts' handling characteristics.

Following construction of the prototype raft, I developed software to determine the rafts' feasible size and capacity range, their aerodynamic and hydrodynamic characteristics, and their functional lifetime. This work also allowed my to approximate the times of year that the rafts could be sailed north to Mexico or south to Ecuador, the length of the journey, and potential layover times in Mexico.

CAD model of balsa raft used in simulation experiments

I published an article with MIT Materials Science Professor Dorothy Hosler detailing my findings in the Spring 2008 issue of the Journal of Anthropological Research.

In Spring 2009, I was an instructor for the MIT undergraduate archaeology class Materials in Human Experience (3.094). In the lab portion of this course, students built a five-meter replica Ecuadorian balsa raft, and sailed it on the Charles River. The raft was be constructed of seven one-foot diameter balsa logs donatated to MIT by the Alcan Baltek Corporation.

Neutron Interferometer

For a senior Nuclear Engineering design project in Fall 2006, four classmates and I developed a compact, four-blade, silicon crystal neutron interferometry system. Neutron interferometry is an imaging technique that uses neutrons' wavefunctions as a probe to determine the fine structure of materials. Because neutrons have wavelike properties, they obey rules that are analogous to light optics.

Our system incorporates helium-3 cooling, integrated vibration damping, modular spin flippers and spin polarizers. According to our simulations, our system has a signal-to-noise ratio twenty times greater than existing neutron interforometers. We presented the design at the November 2007 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., where it won the 2007 Undergraduate Design Competition.

Employment at Vecna Technologies' Cambridge Research Lab

I was employed as a Robotics Engineer at Vecna Technologies in Cambridge, MA during 2007 - 2008. I worked on three major projects: the Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR), LIBS-SERS field spectroscopy, and the FATPAK.

BEAR


VIDEO STILL / THE MILITARY CHANNEL

Vecna's Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR) is a 6.5 foot tall humaniod, hydraulically-actuated robot capable of dynamic balancing on two tracked legs. I worked primarily on the mechanical design and testing of the BEAR's lower body.

LIBS-SERS Detection

At Vecna, I designed a system that uses laser-induces breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) for field identification of chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. This system is currently under proof-of-concept development, so I unfortunately can't include pictures of it on this page.

FATPAK

The FATPAK is a mobile "clinic in a box" containing basic vitals monitoring and diagnostic software in a hardened, field-deployable package. I designed its power and communication systems, and built field-portable packaging to make it resistant to impacts, vibrations, dust, and humidity. In conjunction with ICROSS (International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering), Vecna will deploy eighty of these units in Kenya by August 2009.

2.2 MeV Cyclotron


For my Nuclear Engineering senior thesis in Spring 2007, I designed and built a cyclotron intended to accelerate protons to 2.2 MeV. Protons of this energy are capable of driving the Li-7 --> He-4 + He-3 reaction. In the above annotated figure, the numbered ports connect to the following subsystems: (1) RF system; (2) vacuum pump to maintain low pressure in the chamber; (3) filament leads for the ion source; (4) a hydrogen supply for the ion source; and (5) a target to collect the accelerated particles.

LED Light Arrays

Outside of work, I enjoy making LED-based art installations. These pieces use PIC microcontrollers, and other components, to control dynamic LED arrays.

Other Visual Art

I paint, mostly in oils and acrylic. One of my pieces (acrylic on canvas, shown below) was on display at the Wiesner Gallery in Cambridge, MA in January - April 2009.

RFID Tag Implantation

Clamps and tag, prior to implantation

I implanted a glass-coated RFID tag in my left hand in December 2005. I performed the (minor) surgery myself, using Forrester clamps and an 8-guage hollow piercing needle. After implantation, I connected an RFID tag reader to a strike plate I installed in my front door. When the reader detects my tag's unique 10-digit number, it sends a signal to the strike plate, opening my front door.

Giant My Little Pony


In August 2004, I built a giant Trojan My Little Pony for an undergraduate dorm rush event. It could comfortably seat eight.

Physics/Engineering Teaching at Fletcher-Maynard School, Cambridge


From December 2007 to March 2008, several Vecna coworkers and I taught a basic physics and engineering course to seventh and eighth grade students at the Fletcher-Maynard School in Cambridge, MA. The students used spring-loaded cannons to learn about projectile kinematics, statistics, data analysis, and the experimental method.

Analog Robotics Teaching


In July and August 2006, I taught an introductory analog robotics class to middle school students in conjunction with MIT's SPLASH program. They learned about circuit design using resistors, capacitors, inductors, LEDs, transistors, and photodiodes. In the last two weeks of the class, we built battery-powered light-seeking robots and used flashlights to move them around the classroom.