National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium
First Day

The first day of activities began bright at early with breakfast at 7 am. Each of us were assigned a bus number at check-in. The 8 coach busses were loaded around 7:45 and departed for the University of Central Florida promptly at 8 am. 30 minutes later our brigade pulled into a large culdesac on campus, each bus driving around and stopping only briefly to pick up our UCF tour guides, each of whom were waving numbered flags to indicate their bus assignment. Our particular bus/group was scheduled to visit the UCF engineering department first, where we visited two labs. Being a person of concepts rather than names, please excuse my lack of formal terminology. The 3rd floor lab dealt with creating real solid computer-designed 3D

The main researcher telling us about the computer and modeling machine

objects at the click of the button. The lab had a computer hooked up to a machine that built things, layer by layer, using lasers and a liquid plastic resin that cured only when hit by the laser. This is apparently not brand new technology by itself, rather it was the lab's application that was revolutionary. The team was creating physical models of human organs and structures using CAT and MRI scan data.

A section of a human skull, reproduced by a computer based on a CAT scan. The pink mass is a dense tumor.

They configured the machine to color the resin darker in areas where the MRI showed higher tissue densities. They are finding that the doctors can sometimes get more out of this than a 2D picture or scan data. The application that they are really shooting for though is the ability to quickly and easily build custom implants and prosthetics of all kinds.

The next lab that we visited was a driving simulation lab, basically a home-made version of a driving arcade game with real-world based scenarios vs. thrill based scenarios.

Again, we boarded our bus and traveled access the campus to the research and technology center adjacent to the university. Here, many companies, large and small, have established research facilities/offices. Most offered internships and positions preferentially to UCF students.

Our first company to visit was SAIC, an employee owned, international, technology-based corporation. Their office in Orlando seemed to focus on the design of virtual reality simulations custom designed to act as training tools for various industries from toxic waste management to battlefield scenarios. The military is apparently one of their larger customers. Although we did not tour their facilities, they did bring us into a conference room and demo/talk about some of their simulation software. Seemed to me that they were really just creating customized videogames with realworld parameters. All the employees/demonstrators seemed to truly enjoy their work (as well as playing with the final product!)

For lunch, we were bussed back to a large ballroom in the UCF student center. Well-decorated military personnel were in attendance, one began with an opening speech, and then handed the mic over to a UCF prof who then introduced Dr. Robert Rihes, a substitute speaker in place of Dr. Whalin who was unable to attend. Dr. Rihes was an excellent speaker... more on him later when I have pics to accompany details.

The ballroom was air conditioned down to about 60 degrees - during and after lunch I observed individuals (myself included) briefly slipping outside to defrost.

Upon the conclusion of lunch, we all followed our numbered-flag baring guides back to our assigned busses to continue the tours. Our first afternoon stop was at another, smaller scale virtual reality lab. As an introduction, a grad student talked about human factors and why they were cool. He never bothered to define the term, but I gather that human factors are the basic outline, limits, and functions of a human that engineers need to consider when designing stuff. The second speaker was a former military employee who was now working on developing a cheep "school shooting" training simulation. Afterwards, we observed several simulation and VR projects, mainly interface tools like head gear and devices that track body movement.

Our last tour was of a cancer research facility, where we were split up into 4 groups and rotated through. My group began in the plant genetics room, where they were trying to grow plants that produced or were immune to certain pesticides and/or antibiotics. Our second stop was in a small room to see one of their more advanced microscopes. The scope and its software had the capability to take and pictures of many layers of a slide and compile them into a 3-d image. Equipped with several lasers, the scope was able to also capture an image of the dispersal and arrangement of any marked proteins within a cell. Another demo was given for another scope that was different in methods but similar in end results to the first scope. The last leg of the tour took us to the DNA room, where they had and showed us the processes and equipment used to sequence DNA.

Arrival at the symposium  |   The first day  |   The second day  |