Posted by raherschbach on 25 Oct 2017

Capitol Technology University may be a small, close-knit school, but its engineering students are making big waves.

At the annual Grace Hopper Celebration this month, senior Zalika Dixon came away with the third-place award in the ACM Student Research Competition, impressing judges with her UV radiation monitoring project.

The internationally recognized competition, held each year in conjunction with the Grace Hopper event, offers undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to present their original research during a poster session. A panel of judges selects three undergraduate students and three graduate students as the winners, awarding cash prizes to each.

Dixon said she was “extremely proud” of the award given to her project, which was aimed at increasing public awareness of the effects climate change has on UV radiation. To help accomplish this goal, she created a portable UV datalogger using an Arduino board, SD card reader, and battery back, using this device to monitor UV data over a period of 10 days. 

“I noticed that interest in my project was strong, particularly in the later part of the poster session,” Dixon said. “It seemed that word was getting around about the project.”

Judges, she said, asked probing questions during the session. Were variations noted in UV intensity over successive days? Who designed the equipment for collecting the data?  How long did it take to complete the project?

Although nervous, Dixon fielded the questions with professionalism and poise. Then, when the competition winners were announced, she was elated to hear her name called.

She says electronics courses at Capitol helped her build the fundamentals needed for her research. She also credits participation in TRAPSat, a student-led project at Capitol. “Through TRAPSat, I got hands-on experience with Arduino and microcontroller programming,” Dixon said. “I learned how to integrate hardware and software.”

“Since TRAPSat is interdisciplinary, I learned how to work with people from different majors,” she said. “And because we have ongoing collaborations with NASA, I’ve gained experience with working in a professional environment.”

While continuing her studies and participation in TRAPSat, Dixon now plans to expand her research project  by designing a UV alert system for the Capitol Technology University campus.

Engineering professor Dr. Garima Bajwa, who mentored Dixon as she planned and implemented her project, says Dixon’s project was especially notable because of the commitment she demonstrated, and also because of its applicability to the wider world.

“She started it from scratch and saw it through with great dedication,” Bajwa said. “The project is also important because it involves outreach, in that she is seeking to bring awareness to the community about a critical issue. It’s important for young engineers to recognize that what we do has significance for society as a whole, and Zalika understands this very well.”

The Grace Hopper Celebration, produced by and held in partnership with the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. It was held from October 4-6 in Orlando, Florida.

For a video clip of Zalika Dixon receiving her award, click here.

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