NU Intern at Army Lab Helps Develop Arctic Sea Ice Data Buoys

NU Intern at Army Lab Helps Develop Arctic Sea Ice Data Buoys

By Jess Clarke

NU senior Electrical and Computer Engineering major James Whitlock spent the summer helping with research on a hot topic and its impact in a frigid environment.

Interning with the Army Corps of Engineers, Whitlock helped to develop the newest generation of Seasonal Ice Mass Balance monitoring buoys (SIMB-2), which collect data about ice cover in the Arctic. The data are used for research on climate change, Arctic seasonal ice cover, and other fields.

Working at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in Hanover, New Hampshire, Whitlock helped to assemble and ship three buoys that are now deployed in the Arctic and transmitting data about polar ice.

“The most valuable part was getting to see the process of developing the hardware through to completion, even in such a short period. The experience of troubleshooting a design, preparing tests, and experiments to validate our predictions ahead of a strict deadline for delivery will be invaluable in my career going forward,” Whitlock says.

The invaluable internship experience carries on even now as Whitlock continues to work part-time for CRREL.

Whitlock has also extended his internship research into his current senior project. He is working with two other engineering students to develop new hardware for the SIMB program with the aim of decreasing the cost of the buoys. CRREL is sponsoring the project.

“We plan to accomplish our goals by leveraging commercially available micro-controllers and off-the-shelf components to minimize the amount of machining and assembly time needed for each buoy,” says Whitlock, of Braintree, Vermont.

His internship exemplifies the type of career-building experiential learning opportunities available through Norwich.

“They’re able to be part of a real-world project in a real job for the summer. They get to be part of a team. They get to focus on one thing…and really go into great depth,” says Michael Prairie, associate professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Norwich’s heritage as a military university makes a good fit with the Army Corps of Engineers. In helping the Corps, Whitlock’s internship reinforced another Norwich principle.

“Norwich is about service to country and service to others before oneself,” says Stephen Fitzhugh, director of the David Crawford School of Engineering and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Whitlock himself is a five-year Navy veteran, having served as a second-class electronics technician, mostly aboard the submarine USS West Virginia.
He plans to pursue a career working with embedded systems. The field involves computers embedded as part of larger systems, such as computers that control car engines, wireless computer “mice,” or digital thermostats.

That’s similar to the work he is currently doing for CRREL, which may have a lasting impact.

“I am most proud of being able to contribute in a very meaningful way to the development of a tool that will help collect the data needed to do important research on climate change,” Whitlock says.