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Students present projects, hear from
robotics expert at annual Honors Forum
May 5, 2011
From environmental sustainability to psychology to astronomy, students in the Community College of Rhode Island Honors Program shared projects on a wide variety of topics during the May 3 CCRI Honors Forum at the Knight Campus.
Before the presentations, guest speaker Andrew “Dr. Zoz” Brooks opened the forum by encouraging students to pursue their interests, whatever they may be.
A Ph.D. electrical engineer and computer scientist, Brooks has worked extensively in the field of robotics and on the cutting edge of technology. He has lent his expertise to the Discovery Channel shows “Time Warp” and “Prototype This” and is known in his field for inventions that blur the line between science and art.
His presentation was called “Strange Attractors,” named for a mathematical phenomenon, but in this case a metaphor for the ways in which diverse interests can coalesce.
“There are a lot of areas where your skills and your passions can make a difference,” he told the students and members of the public gathered for the forum, “even if it’s not in your field.”
Brooks explained how, during his career, his interests in things such as pyrotechnics and video games merged with interests in electronics and mechanical systems to bring about viable inventions.
For example, he worked on simple and safer tools to be used for landmine clearance and developed a video game controlled by facial recognition that can be used to help patients with cerebral palsy or recovering from a stroke.
Brooks shared several video clips from his television shows. On “Prototype This,” he and other inventors were able to make eccentric inventions including a theft-proof bicycle that locks its brakes and steering if someone tries to steal it; a cannon and autonomous drone airplane that deliver life jackets to swimmers in distress; and a moving mechanical tube that uses a motion-synched video screen to give the rider the impression that he or she is on a gigantic waterslide.
With “Time Warp,” Brooks was able to use highly detailed slow motion cameras to show the physics at work during everyday occurrences such as sparking a lighter or playing musical instruments.
“The goal of a show like ‘Time Warp’ is to show people something amazing and drop their jaws right to the floor, and then teach them a little science when they’re not expecting it,” Brooks said.
Some “Time Warp” footage shows little-understood phenomena, such as the behavior of sparks. Brooks showed footage of a burner being lit, reduced to 67 times slower than normal and revealed something that looked more like outer space than something we see every day: The sparks moved and exploded into points of lights resembling stars in a nebula, all moving in ways not quite understood by science.
“Even with the fundamental things – we see this every time someone flicks a cigarette lighter – there are things we don’t understand,” Brooks said.
Other footage showed recently discovered behavior of water. When a drop of water was released into a larger pool, it stood on the surface for a moment, held together by its surface tension, before seeming to jump into the air and losing half of its volume to the main body of water, and then repeating the process.
Several drops together seemed to jump like bouncing balls. “This happens every time it rains,” Brooks said.
In closing his presentation, Brooks urged the audience members to indulge their interests in many different subjects at once and to combine them when possible.
“I hope the weird things you are into will lead you to interesting places,” he said. “And remember the thing that binds everything together is curiosity.”
After Brooks’ presentation, the audience moved across campus to the board room, where the CCRI honors students displayed their projects.
About 3,000 students are eligible to join the CCRI Honors Program each year, having maintained a GPA of 3.25 and finished at least 12 credits at the college. Professor Lynne Andreozzi Fontaine, co-coordinator of the CCRI Honors Program, said about 100 to 150 of those eligible join the program each year.
These students take on an extra project related to their coursework in one of their classes. Students who complete four projects during their time at CCRI become honors program graduates.
“The Honors Program is for students who are willing to take on extra work to learn about something in greater detail,” said Associate Professor Karen Kortz, the program’s second co-coordinator.
Students said the extra effort is worth it.
“I enjoyed the project and I would definitely recommend that other students do one as well, because it will open their eyes to something they may not know a lot about,” said General Studies student Rob Digiulio, a first-time participant who completed a project about ways individuals can reduce their environmental impact.
“I did a project on green energy because I like it a lot and it is a huge issue today,” he said.
Among other things, DiGiulio calculated the energy savings a single person can accrue by switching to low-energy light bulbs and researched the problems plastic shopping bags pose.
“The city of San Francisco banned plastic shopping bags because they produced 1,400 tons of waste every year,” he said. “That statistic is alarming because plastic doesn’t biodegrade well and it stays in the ground and gets into our oceans.”
Other honors projects were on topics as varied as “Subarachnoid Hemorrhage and Cerebral Aneurysms,” “Social Conformity” and “The Astronomy of the Incas.”
This last one was by Gladys Enriquez, a native of Peru who examined the archaeological sites there.
“They built temples to observe the shadows cast by the sun to keep track of the seasons, to know when to plant and harvest, and the days of festivals,” she said. “It was important to know the exact days to plant and harvest because the Incas had 10 million people and they were worried about feeding them.”
Another student, Katelyn Rattenni, re-examined a 1952 experiment on social conformity by the psychologist Solomon Asch.
In this experiment, a panel of participants was asked several questions and told in advance to give the wrong answers. One participant was not aware of this and, seeing those around him giving contrary answers, consented to answers that he knew to be wrong to fit in with the group.
Rattenni, who is interested in social psychology, wondered what would happen if gender was made a factor in the experiment.
She made the one person unaware of the true nature of the experiment the opposite gender of everyone else, and found in this case that both men and women stuck to the correct answers. The reasons why will require further study.
“It was an interesting take on my psychology courses,” she said.