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					                                                                                           Fe e l i n g t h e                                                     HEAT
                                                                                                                                                                                                          Students take on the challenge of
                                                                                                                                                                                                         developing a wireless system to monitor
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs

                                                           jim mackenzie
By Tim Stephens                                                                                                                                                   engineering, advised the group        over a temperature range from

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            jacob lowenstern, usgs
                                                                                                                                                                  of eight students who tackled         boiling hot to well below freez-
            avid Munday and Matthew Minolli                                                                                                                       the project. They also had            ing. And, of course, the system
             could have graduated last June with                                                                                                                  help from several other faculty,      couldn’t be too costly.
             degrees in computer engineering. Instead,                                                                                                            including lecturer Stephen                “A lot of effort went into
            they got so wrapped up in their senior                                                                                                                Petersen and associate profes-        micromanaging the system
          design project they decided to stay at UCSC                                                                                                             sor of computer engineering           so it would use as little power
for a fifth year as undergraduates so they could see                                                                                                              Roberto Manduchi.                     as possible and still meet the
the project through to completion. By the end of                                                                                                                      After brainstorming and           specifications,” Minolli says.
this year, they hope to have their wireless sensor                                                                                                                coming up with a plan, the                The system uses a sophis-
network deployed in Yellowstone National Park by                                                                                                                  students organized themselves         ticated networking protocol,
the scientists who track one of the world’s largest                                                                                                               into two groups: Minolli led a        thanks to Obraczka’s exper-
active volcanic systems.                                                                                                                                          group working on the wireless         tise in wireless networking.
    Munday and Minolli led a team of six other stu-                                                                                                               communication system, while           Transmissions from a unit that is
dents that won top honors in the Baskin School of                                                                                                                 Munday’s group focused on the         out of range of the base station
Engineering’s first Senior Design Project Contest in                                                                                                              digital controller for handling       can be relayed by other units.
June 2006. Like many senior projects tackled by UCSC                                                                                                              data from the temperature sen-        The base station monitors bat-
engineering students, theirs was proposed by an out-                                                                                                              sors. The other UCSC students         tery power in all the units and                              A researcher collects samples at a hydrothermal site in Yellowstone National Park.
side group that had a real-world problem in need of an                                                                                                            involved in the project were          dynamically reconfigures the
engineering solution. In this case, the proposal came                                                                                                             Tim Jones, Khi Lam, Paul              network to minimize the load                                 Three students—Munday,                           “I’ve been impressed by
from Jacob Lowenstern, a research geologist for the U.S.                                                                                                          Schooss, Tony Hutter, Jason           on units that are low on power.                              Minolli, and Rhodewalt—                      how dedicated these students
Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, who oversees                                                                                                              Rhodewalt, and Yiping Chen.               “In June, we had the digital                             worked on the project over the               are at trying to come up
the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.                                                                                                                                  Their system, designed to         controller finished but we were                              summer under a USGS con-                     with something that meets
    Yellowstone’s world-famous geysers, hot springs,                                                                                                              send temperature data back to         still working on the long-range                              tract. Minolli and Munday are                our needs,” Lowenstern says.
and other hydrothermal (hot water) features are fueled                                                                                                            the base station once a day, also     radio module, so we used                                     now continuing their work as                 “They faced significant techni-
by heat released from a huge underground reservoir of                                                                                                             allows scientists to log on via the   an off-the-shelf radio system                                an independent-study project.                cal obstacles that they’ve been
molten rock. The observatory, created in 2001 by the                                                                                                              Internet and ask for data from        that had shorter range but                                      “I not only felt that we had a            working through with a lot of
USGS, Yellowstone National Park, and the University                                                                                                               any site at any time. The system      allowed us to demonstrate the                                responsibility to see this through,          enthusiasm.”
of Utah, tracks activity that could lead to hazardous                                                                                                             also informs researchers of any       networking protocol and show                                 but I also really liked doing it,”               Yellowstone National Park
seismic, hydrothermal, or volcanic events in the region.                                                                                                          problems that crop up in the          that it works,” Munday says.                                 Minolli said. “I plan to study               will ultimately decide whether
    Temperature measurements are an important part                                                                                                                field units. But what makes the           Lowenstern was sufficiently                              wireless communications in                   the students’ system gets
of the overall monitoring effort, but the observatory                                                                                                             system unique is its ability to       impressed to provide addi-                                   graduate school, and I figured               deployed. But Lowenstern says
needs a more reliable and efficient system for gather-                                                                                                            operate within the constraints        tional funding so the students                               the best way to prepare is to keep           the park geologist has been
ing temperature data, Lowenstern says.                                                                                                                            of the national park setting.         could continue their work.                                   working on this project.”                    very enthusiastic about the
    “Right now we use data loggers that sit there and                                                                                                                 “Yellowstone is under a                                                                                                                     project, which bodes well for
gather data for weeks or months, and then someone                                                                                                                 lot of pressure to minimize                                                                                                                     its being accepted by the park.
has to go out into the field, download the data, and                                                                                                              environmental and aesthetic           Like many senior projects tackled                                                                             And if that falls through for
transfer it to a computer. Sometimes the instruments                                                                                                              impacts, so relay stations,                                                                                                                     some reason, Munday says the
break, and they might even break a week into their de-
ployment, in which case we wouldn’t know until two
                                                                                                                                                                  solar panels, and big anten-
                                                                                                                                                                  nas are really frowned upon,”
                                                                                                                                                                                                        by UCSC engineering students, the                                                                         design is flexible enough for
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  use in a wide range of other
months later when we go back and find we don’t have                                                                                                               Lowenstern said.                                                                                                                                applications.
any data,” he says.                                                                                                                                                   The monitoring units in the       proposal came from an outside group                                                                           “We’ve already had inquiries
    His challenge to the UCSC students was to come                                                                                                                field had to be unobtrusive and                                                                                                                 from other potential clients,” he
up with a wireless system that could monitor hundreds                                                                                                             use very little power to prolong                                                                                                                says. “It’s a unique and versatile
of sites throughout the park and feed temperature data                                                                                                            battery life, while providing         that had a real-world problem in                                                                          system that you can connect to
back to a central computer at park headquarters.                                                                                                                  long-range radio transmissions.                                                                                                                 any kind of sensor and could use
    Katia Obraczka, associate professor of computer                        David Munday (left), Matthew Minolli, and their award-winning wireless sensor system   The units also had to operate         need of an engineering solution.                                                                          in a variety of industries.”

20   UC Santa Cruz Review / Spring 2007                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      UC Santa Cruz Review / Spring 2007 21

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