Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition at OCTC

FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition at OCTC
By Bernie Hale, Owensboro Community and Technical College

​Owensboro Community and Technical College is hosting a real-world robotics competition on Saturday, January 31, 2015 for students in grades 7-12.  The event will be held in the Advanced Technology Center, on the main campus located at 4800 New Hartford Road, Owensboro.

FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model but applying STEM related skills. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and is programmed using a variety of languages. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

21 teams are scheduled to compete, representing schools and organizations in Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana, including Lexington Christian Academy, Oakdale Christian Academy, St. Henry District High School, Larry A. Ryle High School, Roberson County High School, Christian Educational Consortium, Daviess County High School, Louisville Robotics Institute, Paducah-Tilghman High School, South Spencer High School, Whitefield Academy, Bethlehem High School, Dayton Regional STEM School, John Burroughs School,  and neighborhood and homeschool association groups. 

Owensboro Community & Technical College, NASA Kentucky, Domtar, and AMTEC are sponsoring this year’s event. For more information about the OCTC’s FIRST Lego League competition, please contact Shawn Payne at (270) 686-3789 or

Monday, January 19, 2015

WKCTC to Host "Mars Explorer" Robotics Competition for Local Students

West Kentucky Community and Technical College is hosting the Robot Extreme Challenge March 7th, 2015. The competition is open to any student in western Kentucky Three divisions are open to accommodate entrants from elementary, middle, or high school.

Cost of entry per team is $175, and each team must have a Lego EV3 robotics platform. Teams will develop a robot capable of handling 13 different tasks pertaining to a pre-determined theme. This year's theme is "Mars Adventure." Each task will involve performing some function to assist with or improve the lives of people hypothetically living on Mars.

Registration deadline is January 23rd, 2015.

More details are available on

IEEE Students To Meet, Plan for SoutheastCon 2015

The Murray State University student chapter of IEEE will have a Spring 2015 Kickoff / planning meeting Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 at 3.30 p.m., 135 Blackburn.

The meeting will discuss details pertaining to the formation of a Robot Team. The Robot Team will compete at the SoutheastCon 2015 Student Hardware Competition to be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL, April 9th - April 12th, 2015.

The IEEE Robot Team needs members with the following experience or background:

1. Electrical engineering
2. Mechanical engineering
3. Computer programming

All interested Engineering Physics students plus IET majors are encouraged to attend.

Free pizza and drinks will be available.

For more information, please contact Dr. Leedy at

 IEEE Region 3 Student Information

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mapping Nobel Prize Winning Women

After the recent passing of author Doris Lessing (1919-2013) I became curious how many women have received the Nobel Prize since 1901. Not that many I have come to discover. Of the 851 individual Laureates, 45 have been women, or roughly 5%. According to, 25 organizations have been awarded the Nobel Prize, as well. Examples of organizations include Bangladesh's Grameen Bank (2006), Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, 1999), Amnesty International (1977), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF, 1965).

The connection between education for women and girls and economic progress and development is clear. Investments in education for women and girls in developing and underdeveloped countries results in positive economic and social progress. Around the world, from the United States to Africa and Southwest Asia, investment in education, and especially STEM education, improves wages, improves health care, reduces child mortality, and increases political action and commitment.

My hopes are the map may help inspire people to improve the recognition of the contributions of women throughout all segments of global society. 

Click "Legend" to open the map's legend. The pins are color-coded by the Nobel award, green for chemistry, red for physics, silver for economics, and so forth. Click on a pin and the information for a particular Nobel winner will appear. When the window opens, scroll to the bottom. I added a link to the winner's entry on and used a link to their entry for a picture, if one was available. I assigned the colors, by the way. The interactive map above was created from a simple spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet is very simple to create. A little forethought must be given to how the data is organized. As I tell my students, you don't have to be an expert in the topic, but you do have to understand how to organize information. In this case, I mapped the winners by their place of birth. However, in many cases, the winners did not their award in their home country. Before and during World War Two, a mass exodus of people from Western, Central, and Eastern Europe occurred in advance of Nazi Germany influence. In some cases, the location does not note the place of birth but the country of residence at the time of the award. This special circumstance might make for an interesting lesson plan for middle or high school students, by the way. Both men and women Nobel Prize awards for the 1940's exhibited considerably disruption due to the war.

As the above spreadsheet illustrates, nothing fancy is going on. Year, Winner's Name, City, Country, Prize Category, etc. A couple of special notes; for the data to be mapped, some information about location must be provided. Now, I have provided "city" and "country." I could use a technique called "geocoding," but this process comes at a real cost. Some processes included with ArcGIS Online come with a real dollar amount attached and cost real money. Geocoding is one of those processes. I opted not to charge geocoding against our account and elected to use geographic coordinates instead. Thus, the "x" and "y" are latitude and longitude. The ArcGIS Online dashboard comes equipped to handle data attached to geographic coordinates at no cost to the user. The upload process is also smart enough to identify geographic coordinates in a spreadsheet in the event an unsophisticated user provided unusual field headings, like "peanut_butter" and "jelly." The data within the record is often enough to offset unfortunate headings.

There are two columns missing from the above graphic. The first missing field is "image_LNK." This is a reserved field name. Use this field to provide a link to an online image. The field must contain the fully qualified URL to the image. The second missing field is "wiki_LINK." This field contains the URL to pertinent Wikipedia page. I believe adding other custom fields is possible, though I have not explored this potential. To provide better coverage, below is the rest of the spreadsheet.

This is not a precise tutorial for putting data online. The process is not more involved than what I have described, though. ArcGIS Online maps can be shared with selected Murray State people or Murray State groups, or can even be made public. And, as you have see above, can even be embedded in a website.

The same potential for building map applications similar to the two maps I have posted exists for kids in kindergarten through high school in Kentucky. Sponsored by the Kentucky Geographic Alliance, all K-12 schools in Kentucky have at their disposal ArcGIS Online for Education. Check out for complete details.

For more information about ESRI's ArcGIS Online for Education at Murray State contact Michael Busby at the Mid-America Remote sensing Center (MARC.)

Dr Robin Zhang Keeps Up with Geoscience Graduates

In the 2013-2014 academic year Murray State University charged individual departments with keeping track of graduates. Figuring out geographic distributions, mapping geography, is something geographers tend to be pretty good at. In the Department of Geosciences, Dr. Robin Zhang took on the task of mapping where Geosciences graduates end up soon after graduation.

Using ArcGIS Online, a free mapping application provided by ESRI courtesy of MSU/MARC, Dr. Zhang decided to give the mapping application a shot. Below, is the GIS-based mapping application created by Dr. Zhang illustrating the distribution of Geosciences graduates.

Interactive maps like the one above are pretty easy to create. To create one of these interactive maps, an ESRI Global Account is required. These accounts are free, created simply by visiting and filling out a short form. An account can also be created by the local ESRI Site License Administrator, Michael Busby. An invitation to join the Murray State University ArcGIS Online community is also necessary. Again, this request goes to the local ESRI Site License Administrator, or can be handled during the ESRI account request.

The account provides access to ESRI's ArcGIS Online for Education. The next bit of the puzzle is managing the data. In Dr. Zhang's map app, her data were the locations of Geosciences alumni - people. People will gainful employment are typically tied to an employer's address, a building. The building can be located in a number of ways, but most commonly with an address or a set of coordinates. By clicking on one of the colored dots, information on a person is revealed, including the longitude and latitude (x and y) of the employer's location. To put a point on a globe one needs a coordinate, a longitude and latitude. With that important element in a spreadsheet, each row in a spreadsheet then becomes a mappable record.

In essence, one really only needs a spreadsheet replete with information, tied in some way to a place on the Earth. Then, an interactive map is born. In my next post, I will demonstrate my interactive map and provide an example of my spreadsheet.

GitHub Student Developer Pack

GitHub recently released a suite of software, programming resources, cloud development tools, and other development resources specifically for students.

The Education branch of GitHub has partnered with several providers to offer students a nice bundle of free services, software, and opportunities to begin app and service development.

For complete information, click here.

To be eligible, you must be a student aged 13+ and enrolled in a degree or diploma granting course of study. All one needs is a school-issued email address, valid student identification card, or other official proof of enrollment.

To get access to the pack, GitHub will need to verify your student status. Sign up using the form and GitHub will send you an email once you've been verified.

GitHub Education is also a great STEM resource for crowdsourcing programming, for software development, for learning to code, for improving code, and for all sorts of activities related to software development.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Archaeology Prints Its First Object

In early August, Dr. Kit Wesler was finally able to get his Cubify CubeX Duo up-and-running. Not through any fault of his own; several work orders were stacked up to bring electric and networking to his Terrain Modeling Laboratory. Once the CubeX Duo had a firmware update, a test file was uploaded to the printer. The CubeX Duo is only connected to computer to receive firmware updates. Print files (.STL) are moved to the 3D printer via a USB drive. The onboard computer and menu system provides access to printing specific print files. The short video below shows the printer in action.

The Cubify CubeX Duo was purchased along with a 3D scanner as part of a long-term project to generate models of archaeological artifacts. A collection of model archaeological artifacts would be assembled into interpretive collections for distribution to local primary and secondary schools to enhance students knowledge of local history and culture. These model artifacts would represent primarily the Mississippian culture which existed throughout much of the southeast United States from about 800 A.D. to approximately 1600 A.D. (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

So, what was printed? A rook, the test file provided by Cubify (above). The Murray State coaster and dime (on the coaster) provide scale. The print job took about 4 hours. The level of detail is pretty cool; not seen in the image is the spiral staircase running from the floor to roof inside the rook. Many of these 3D printers create very impressive levels of details even as seen from the outside. If one were to examine these objects closer, the interiors of most objects also contain high amounts fine details only visible by close scrutiny.

3D printing and scanning, outrageously expensive a mere 5 years ago, are becoming nearly commonplace. Such vendors as Cubify, Makerbot, and Printrbot provide entry level printers affordable to home enthusiasts. Some models are less than a $1000, putting them within reach of individuals, schools, and small businesses. 3D printing and scanning is rapidly becoming the basis of DIY, entrepreneurial fabrication, and a necessary tool for the Maker movement.