Becoming SMARTER…

It’s my third summer living in Manhattan, and my first participating in the SMARTER RET program.  The program, like all RET programs, is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.  The focus of the program is on mechatronics [read: programming and robots].  While I’m only beginning my third week of the program, I’ve already been challenged to learn two different programming languages (PBASIC and C/C++) and have created a few fun projects.

A programmable robot, manufactured by Parallax.

My BOE-Bot, a programmable robot manufactured by Parallax.

While I’ve had limited exposure to programming (if you count some LOGO programming done in 2003-2004 and three basic javascript lessons from codeacademy.com), the first weeks of the program were intense.  Daily routines have included lectures on common electrical components and theory, followed by extended lab activities where we learn to code in PBASIC and demonstrate proficiency in reading schematics and constructing circuits on a breadboard.

Learning to code feels a lot like learning a new language.  I find myself snipping code from the manual and tweaking it just to understand what each piece of syntax tells the microcontroller to do.  There does come a point where the language “clicks”; you begin to see patterns in construction and can begin to write original code on your own.  After working through two weeks of exercises, I’m now transitioning to C/C++, which is the programming language used to interface with Arduino microcontrollers.

While my RET experience is rooted in research, there is often some transition between training and becoming immersed in the experience.  This is where I currently find myself.  As a result, I’ve been taking breaks and working on a curricular challenge related to this summer experience.  My goal is to construct a quantitative conductivity meter which students in my AP Chemistry course can build and use to perform a conductometric acid-base titration after AP exams in the spring.  So far, I’ve worked on constructing the circuit and ensuring that the LCD display is functional.  My work in progress can be seen in the images below:

Arduino Uno connected to a LCD display serving as a prototype for my conductivity sensor.

Arduino Uno connected to a LCD display serving as a prototype for my conductivity sensor.

Developing the probe requires an arduino, electrical components and a laptop.

Developing the probe requires an arduino, electrical components and a laptop.

 

As of right now, this setup serves only as a hardware work in progress.  I still need to locate, test and calibrate a conductivity sensor.

The code that drives the LCD display is surprisingly simple, though this will change once the conductivity sensor is introduced, as I’m currently using a button switch to serve as the placeholder for the sensor. The code needed for the LCD to operate and display the state of the sensor (the switch in this case) is:

The code currently used to drive the LCD display.

The code currently used to drive the LCD display.

 

As the summer goes on, I’ll post updates to the project.

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One response to “Becoming SMARTER…

  1. Pingback: Summer 2015: An immersive research experience | lazy 0ch0·

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