Whether you’ve used websites like Wikipedia, YouTube or Facebook, you’ve probably heard of them as examples of the social networking, data-mining and data-sharing capabilities of the Internet. Web-savvy teenagers Ethan Sanders and Aaron Smith certainly have, and they used their knowledge to help Oak Ridge National Laboratory design an all-new interactive data site for national security and emergency management.
High school juniors Sanders and Smith, students in the Tennessee Governor’s Academy for Mathematics and Science (TGA), participated with mentor David Resseguie and his colleagues at ORNL in the development of SensorPedia, a program that seeks to use emerging Web 2.0 “social networking” standards for organizing and providing access to online sensor network data and related data sets.
SensorPedia promises to provide near real-time collaboration among a community that is required to share sensor information. Supporting national security and assisting first responders during emergencies are the motivations behind the project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The students, who weren’t required to have computer programming experience to be accepted for the project, were responsible for researching the popular social networking and collaborative sites that they’re familiar with and identifying design elements that can be built into SensorPedia to make it as user friendly as possible.
“Teenagers are the best judge of what’s easy to use, because we use the Internet constantly,” Smith said. “We’ll find any way to be able to get what we need there.”
The students’ research experience was part of their curriculum at TGA and one of the many ways that ORNL is partnering with Tennessee schools to enhance the education of the state’s young people. During the academic year, the Laboratory provided mentored research experiences for all 24 of the TGA inaugural class of high school juniors in addition to a number of other area high school students. Administrative aspects of involving the students in research at the Laboratory were handled by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, the Laboratory’s long-time partner in education.
“TGA provides the opportunity for the students to participate in real research activities and get a taste of what to expect in their chosen fields of interest,” said David Resseguie, Sanders’ and Smith’s mentor in the Computational Science and Engineering division at ORNL. “I have enjoyed helping the students figure out what interests them the most as they begin to make their plans for college.”
Involvement in the SensorPedia project changed Smith’s idea about his potential college major. “I liked aerospace engineering, but computer engineering is a lot more fun; it’s hands-on,” Smith said. “It gives me different ways to solve a problem, and I can solve it however I want to. I’m glad that I got the opportunity to come to Oak Ridge to do this. TGA is a great experience.”
For Sanders, the experience provided chances he never thought he’d have. “Before TGA, coming to Oak Ridge was, for me, unthought of,” Sanders said. “Being here is going to open a lot of doors to a future job or recommendations for a college application. I am also looking into other opportunities for internships here in Oak Ridge.”