ATRP Researchers Participate in STEM Education Programs
In addition to developing innovative technologies, researchers in the Agricultural Technology Research Program (ATRP) actively participate in educational outreach programs, particularly those focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Each year the program provides undergraduate internship and graduate research assistantship opportunities. Researchers also lead technology demonstrations and participate in virtual lab exercises with K-12 students. The goal is to show how STEM is very much a part of food production and processing, thus introducing the students to the possibility of exploring a career in agriculture.
ATRP recently partnered with the Georgia Tech Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program to form a student-faculty/researcher robotics team. VIP is an undergraduate education program that operates in a research and development context. Undergraduate students who join VIP teams earn academic credit for their participation in design efforts that assist faculty and graduate students with research and development issues in their areas of technical expertise. ATRP research engineer Michael Matthews is teaching/advising a group of undergraduates on research centered on food and agriculture robotics and the technical fields of perception, controls, manipulation, and robot design.
According to Matthews, for many students the VIP course is their first experience with open ended research, where the instructor does not, and usually cannot, simply hand them instructions and tools for success. This means the students must navigate toward solutions with team members from various skill levels and disciplines. This year’s team included undergraduates from the Schools of Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. The team has developed an autonomous harvesting robot for agricultural crops, and recently participated at the Georgia Tech Robotics Demo Day, where K-12 students from across the state were able to get hands-on exposure with real robotics research.
ATRP is also working with Russell Middle School in Winder, Georgia (Barrow County School System) as part of Georgia Tech’s D2D (Direct-to-Discovery) program. D2D uses videoconferencing to bring world-class researchers and their laboratories into K-12 classrooms. ATRP research engineer Wayne Daley and research scientist Colin Usher use their robotics-based work in efficient poultry deboning to illustrate basic geometric concepts as well as the use of statistics. Research engineer John Pierson explains light absorbance and color measurements with demonstrations using an ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometer and food products.
“D2D education allows students to gain exposure to researchers as never before possible. Through direct interaction and performing side-by-side experiments, the students gain unparalleled insight into the research environment, all while seeing real-world applications of the concepts that they are being taught,” says Usher. “No longer should you hear a student say ‘When will I EVER use this?!’”