Watershed Student Earns Future Innovator Award

Every year, Watershed freshmen from the Introduction to Scientific Observing class design and carry out an individual astronomical observing project that requires them to answer a quantitative question about an astronomical object or something to do with how night lighting affects our night-time environment. 

The culmination of the project cycle is at the Maine State Science Fair at the Cross Center in Bangor where the students present their projects for judging. The Science Fair is a great opportunity for our students to showcase their work and gives them an opportunity to speak knowledgeably and confidently about their project.

This year, building on the work the class did characterizing the current lighting levels along Main St. in Camden as part of an effort to upgrade the quality of street lighting by the Camden Town Design Committee, freshman Bea Buckley wondered if there wasn't a better way to do the work of measuring street lighting levels. The class spent four or five hours laying out a grid and measuring light levels using a photometer all the while dodging cars, and she was determined to test out a more efficient way to gather these data. 

She asked Josh Gerritsen to fly one of his drones over Main Street and stitch together an image from the drone pictures he took. Bea then analyzed the image and compared the lighting levels in the image to photometer readings she took at a set of measurement points on the street. If there was some correlation between the drone image brightness and the photometer reading at a given measurement point, then it would be a simple matter to use the drone images to characterize lighting levels, thus saving hours of tedious work with a photometer at the street level.

What Bea found is that there is very little correlation between the drone imagery and the photometry gathered at the street level. She showed conclusively that there's no substitute for the hard work of getting out and measuring at the street. 

Even though Bea's hypothesis that drones could replace photometry was disproved, the Science Fair judges were so impressed with her idea and methodology that they awarded her one of three "Future Innovator" awards presented to freshmen only. 

"I really enjoyed this whole process." said Bea, "Gathering the data, making sense of it, organizing my poster, and getting to explain my work to the judges was a satisfying experience." 

"I am always on the lookout for ways our students can interact meaningfully with the community to solve problems and this project was a perfect fit for us"  noted Watershed science teacher, Pete Kalajian. Watershed has been involved in a number of outward-facing projects in recent years including instrumenting the Seabright Dam for the town as the culminating project of the Engineering and Design class, and preparing a comprehensive energy review for the town as part of the Climate Change class last year. 

Peter Kalajian
Watershed School