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TREX 2018 Day 7: Spreading the Sensors

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TREX 2018 Day 7: Spreading the Sensors

By Suchan Vivatsethachai ’20

Today, I was assigned to be in a group which would go around the Big Island putting particulate matter (PM) sensors into action. After building and calibrating those sensors for almost two weeks, we finally got a chance to get some real data out of them. We planned to put them along a path from Hilo to Kona, two cities located on complete opposite sides of the island, so it was a particularly long trip.

Mounting sensor on the top of the car with cable ties

Before we took off, we first mounted one of our sensors, `Calvin’, to the top of the car, because we wanted to see the performance of the sensor in a moving environment. We chose to drive along a path that would encounter volcanic smog to Kona so that we can track how and when PM forms. On our way back to Hilo, we encountered some quite heavy rain. We were somewhat worried about Calvin up there, but in the end, he did great, and provided us with lots of data points!

After searching for locations to safely place our sensors, we headed to our first destination, a police station in Kau. The police officers were very helpful in finding the best place to tie `Chula’ and its solar panel. The tricky part was figuring out how to lift the solar panel 20 degrees from the ground with only cable ties!

David putting up the sensor `Lani’ beside a police station

Hiding a sensor behind a rock in a scenic overlook

We then continued to drive from place to place. From the police station to a school, a fire station to a scenic overlook, and even to a Thai restaurant! People were very cooperative and helpful, so we were able to dispatch the sensors faster than we expected. Fun fact: we ended up putting the sensors in two separate fire stations, both of which had firefighters whose fathers graduated from MIT! Fortunately, when we put the last sensor at the second fire station, we got a chance to see a beautiful sunset.

A sunset at the second fire station

Every year, a group of MIT students and professors travel to the Big Island of Hawaii to gain fieldwork experience through TREX (Traveling Research Environmental EXperiences). The first TREX trip was held in 2000, and since launching has taken students on research activities in domestic and international settings. For more undergraduate opportunities, click here.