Archives for July 2012

Day 21- Hours of Work Come Together

Today was an incredibly long day- I got to work for 7 am and started working on fixing the code that wasn’t working.  I was still having problems, but I knew that around 9 am I would be able to get some help.

I worked on doing final soldering and hot gluing of our circuits, so everything would be ready to put into the boxes as soon as I figured out the code issues.  I ended up working with David C. from the lab, and we were able to get the code working.

We had a last minute meeting to talk about everything that needed to be done during the afternoon.  We divided up jobs and went work assembling the boxes and make sure everything would hold up to the rough winds of space.

I had to run out to the hardware store and Radioshack for last minute supplies like tubing and batteries.  Everything went well, it just took a ton of time to assemble everything.  Here’s a picture of the box that contains our temperature sensors and our cameras, which are under the duct tape.


Tomorrow we need to weigh the boxes so we can find out how much lift that we need and design a counterweight before driving to Mount Greylock.

Day 20- Writing Code/ Building Boxes

Today I spent a majority of the day writing code for our Arduino, which had the sole job of saving the temperature sensor data. I spent hours reading articles about how to save to an SD card, but it wasn’t working as expected, and I had 5 different temperature sensors that I needed to save the data from.


During this time, my lab partner was assembling the payload boxes across the street, so that we would just have to put our electronics in it.

We had a brown bag lunch where everyone talked about their subsystem documentation, as it was due by 3 pm today to Nate so he could put it all in a document to send for review.

We then had a brief meeting to talk about progress on assembling everything, and we were feeling pretty good about what we had to do.

In the afternoon, I went back to trying to code for the Arduino to save the temperature data. I was having a ton of problems with it, so I had a lot of guys from the lab help me out with writing the code.  It ended up being after 7pm and everyone had to leave, so we figured that we could finish it the next morning.

Unfortunately, my partner wasn’t as productive as I had hoped, and only assembled one box- and took off early, which was a little frustrating.  I hope tomorrow goes smoother!

Day 19- Labs with Teachers/ Lesson Plans

Today started off with running the laboratories with running the temperature sensor laboratory as well as the Monte Carlo Method laboratory with the teachers.  The temperature sensors that were built were hot glued together and will be flown on our high altitude balloon next Wednesday. 


The Monte Carlo method is a way of predicting, using known data (like NOAA weather data in our case) where an object has the greatest probability of landing.  In our case, we can predict landing sites based on known weather patterns and a known launch site (Mt. Greylock).

We approximated landing sites, the cluster near the Vermont/NH border is a launch from Mt. Greylock, while the pins at sea were from a launch from the Photonics center in Boston.


We spent the rest of the day talking about what lessons we will take back to share with our students.  I will take back the importance of collaboration and maybe the use of lab notebooks.  Also, I will take back the perspective of being someone who has lived in the city- completely different from my life in Western MA.

Day 18- Lab Prep and Interview

We spent most of today getting ready for doing the laboratories with the RET teachers tomorrow.  This included printing a gigantic map of the state of Massachusetts, buying pushpins and setting up and testing 5 different laboratory kits meant to be used by each group to build their thermocouples.

We were a little late for lunch, and showed up to find out that we were being interview by Leslie Friday of BU Today.  She interviewed each teacher group to find out more about their experiences and the RET program as a whole.  It was a great time!

Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures today, sorry guys!

I’m taking off a little early (like right now after I post this) to go out for my Mom’s birthday!  I’m excited!

Day 17- Filmed and Edited Lab #2,

Today we finished filming how to go through laboratory #2, and edited it using iMovie.

Lab #2 Temperature Sensors

We finished that up right before lunch, and ended up resoldering some of the breakout boards we had created, because they weren’t making great contact. Chris taught us how to use continuity testing to test, a great technique that is coming in handy.

We had a meeting with everyone involved on the Balloon Launch after lunch, where we laid out all of our supplies and made sure we would be set for the launch next Wednesday.

At this point, we decided that we had to test the radios that we would be using; one was programmed with Nate’s callsign and transmitted GPS location to APRS.  We finally got it working when we went on the roof of the CAS Building.  This took most of the afternoon, and we also tested the beacon that broadcasted a signal only 3 miles, so we would be able to find the general location with a directional antenna.  Here’s a view from the CAS roof.


Day 16- Lab 2, Cleanroom Part 2

During our time in the lab this morning, we worked on completing laboratory #2 and revising our lesson plans so that we would be able to start filming very soon and ultimately make a video that accompanies laboratory 2 about making temperature sensors.

We had a brown bag lunch with Selim Unlu, and it was awesome to hear how busy of a guy he is.  Professor Unlu is a fantastic speaker, and had us captivated with the general theme focused on “The Practice of Research.” 

After lunch, we did some deposition up in the clean room.  It went pretty smooth, and we finally had our first wafers finished.  Here’s what mine looks like:


Day 15- Art Supplies and Building

We started today off by editing our first film and posting it on Youtube.  This means that we finally finished everything associated with laboratory #1.

Laboratory #1- Introduction to Electronics

We headed to Blick Art Store in the landmark center, and bought entirely too much foam.



photo (1)

We had a brown bag lunch with BUSAT, and the theme was around the final push.  Documentation was being created by each subsystem and put together into a final design document.  Each subsystem group shared where they were in the process.

We spent the afternoon constructing the cutoff mechanism with Jean and working on different aspects of the balloon.  I built the cutoff mechanism box while Jean worked on testing the cutoff mechanism, Fjodor worked on creating the Adafruit Data Logger Shield from the kit that we ordered.  It looks like it will be a busy week!

Day 14- Problem Based Learning

Today we had a pedagogy session with representatives from the New England Board of Higher Education come make a presentation about Problem Based learning to our group of RET teachers here at Boston University.  Fenna Hanes and Nick Massa were the two representatives.

We talked at length about problem based learning, and creating meaningful experiences for students.  The New England Board of Higher Education has developed many different STEM problems, which enable students to work cooperatively and do some great learning.

Nick talked about how he uses PBL in his college classroom at Springfield Technical Community College, which was nice to hear.  It is very similar to the Bio 100 class I took at UMass Amherst with Professor Zane Barlow-Coleman.  It’s funny how sometimes things come full circle, and it makes you look back and realize how you’ve arrived at the present moment you are now living in.

Day 13- Frustration with Code!

Fjodor and I started out Day 13 by starting again on the lab, hoping to go through laboratories #2 and #5, the labs we will be running with our group of teachers next week.  We started our the day going to the laboratory and working on Laboratory #2. 

When we started Lab #2, our Temperature Sensor Lab, it ended up being that they had someone solder the MAX6675 to some breakout boards.  Fjodor and I hadn’t ever soldered, so we learned and tried to make our prototype.

Our board uses an Arduino to interface with the computer and give us a temperature output.  We started by using last year’s script, but because Arduino has since updated their library, that script wasn’t working.  In fact, it wouldn’t even compile.

We ended up finding another script online, which still wasn’t compiling.  It ends up that the script was using SCK, which is now an Arduino library.  We found and replaced SCK with CLK, and the script compiled.

We were, however, still receiving an interesting output- about 270 degrees Celsius.  We kept trying to figure out why it was so high, but we couldn’t figure out why it was so off. 

For the rest of the day, I recoded the script to get it to work.  Around 4:45 pm, I ended up realizing that it was reading off by a decimal point.  It should have been 27.0 degrees Celsius, not 270 degrees Celsius!  I quickly recoded the solution, and it worked!

Here is our script for the MAX6675 temperature sensor with K-type thermocouple

  Temperature Reading from a MAX6675

Modified By Jason DeFuria, BUSAT <> on 7/19/2012

Ryan McLaughlin <>

#define SO 12    // MISO
#define CLK 13   // Serial Clock

#define TC_0 11  // CS Pin of MAX6607
int TC_0_calib = 0;  // Calibration compensation value in digital counts (.25˚C)

void setup() {

pinMode(SO, INPUT);
pinMode(CLK, OUTPUT);

pinMode(TC_0, OUTPUT);
digitalWrite(TC_0,HIGH);  // Disable device


/* Create a function read_temp that returns an unsigned int
   with the temp from the specified pin (if multiple MAX6675).  The
   function will return 9999 if the TC is open.

   Usage: read_temp(int pin, int type, int error)
     pin: the CS pin of the MAX6675
     type: 0 for ˚F, 1 for ˚C
     error: error compensation in digital counts
     samples: number of measurement samples (max:10)
float read_temp(int pin, int type, int error, int samples) {
  float value = 0;
  int error_tc;
  float temp;
  float temp_out;

  for (int i=samples; i>0; i–){
    digitalWrite(pin,LOW); // Enable device

    /* Cycle the clock for dummy bit 15 */

    /* Read bits 14-3 from MAX6675 for the Temp
         Loop for each bit reading the value and
         storing the final value in ‘temp’
    for (int i=11; i>=0; i–){
        digitalWrite(CLK,HIGH);  // Set Clock to HIGH
        value += digitalRead(SO) << i;  // Read data and add it to our variable
        digitalWrite(CLK,LOW);  // Set Clock to LOW

    /* Read the TC Input inp to check for TC Errors */
    digitalWrite(CLK,HIGH); // Set Clock to HIGH
    error_tc = digitalRead(SO); // Read data
    digitalWrite(CLK,LOW);  // Set Clock to LOW

    digitalWrite(pin, HIGH); //Disable Device

  value = value/samples;  // Divide the value by the number of samples to get the average

     Keep in mind that the temp that was just read is on the digital scale
     from 0˚C to 1023.75˚C at a resolution of 2^12.  We now need to convert
     to an actual readable temperature (this drove me nuts until I figured
     this out!).  Now multiply by 0.25.  I tried to avoid float math but
     it is tough to do a good conversion to ˚F.  THe final value is converted
     to an int and returned at x10 power.


  value = value + error;  // Insert the calibration error value

  if(type == 0) {  // Request temp in ˚F
    temp = ((value*0.25) * (9.0/5.0)) + 32.0;  // Convert value to ˚F (ensure proper floats!)
  } else if(type == 1) {  // Request temp in ˚C
    temp = (value*0.25);  // Multiply the value by 25 to get temp in ˚C

  temp_out = temp;  // Send the float to an int (X10) for ease of printing.

  /* Output 9999 if there is a TC error, otherwise return ‘temp’ */
  if(error_tc != 0) { return 9999; } else { return temp_out; }

void loop() {

  // Read the temperature and print it to serial
  Serial.print(“Temp F: “);
  Serial.print(“\tTemp C: “);



Here are some pictures:


Our setup connected with an Arduino Uno



Running Arduino on my Mac

Day 12- Working in the lab!

Day 12 started out again with us finishing up the first revision of the laboratories.  Fjodor and I finally put them into a form that makes sense to us, and all we need to do now is edit them as we are completing the labs as a student would.  This took until lunch time, but it’s nice to know that we figured out many of the logistical necessities before trying to complete the labs.

We had a meeting after lunch with the Balloon Launch team.  We’re getting close to our August 1st launch date, so we’re working on what logistics need to be solved. We are still waiting on some supplies to arrive, and working out the purchase of local supplies.  We also need to solder some of the parts that came disassembled, which will take most of our Monday afternoon, working with Jean to also complete our protoprototype of the cutoff mechanism for environmental testing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the lab, working on completing Lab #1- Introduction to Electronics, as we had written it.  We ran into a few problems, but were able to get the laboratory working and completed.  It’s nice to have one completely finished laboratory- We’re not even halfway done yet!

Here is a picture of our first lab introductory activity supplies and our first setup!


Lab #1 Required Materials



Lab #1 LED Setup