Wilmington high school student spends summer studying in UD engineering lab

Most high school students probably know what a QR code is, but how many can say that they understand the science behind these optical labels?

David Miller, a rising junior at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware, can. He spent the summer as a research intern at the University of Delaware’s Computational Imaging and Spectroscopy Lab, where he worked on the development of a new generation of secure QR codes with Gonzalo Arce, Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and doctoral student Karelia Pena.

 

From left to right, UD doctoral student Karelia Pena; Gonzalo Arce, Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and David Miller, a student at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware, show the QR codes they have studied using sophisticated optical equipment in a laboratory in UD's Evans Hall.

From left to right, UD doctoral student Karelia Pena; Gonzalo Arce, Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and David Miller, a student at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware, show the QR codes they have studied using sophisticated optical equipment in a laboratory in UD’s Evans Hall.

 

“We want to make smart QR codes more robust in different conditions, such as different levels of lighting,” said Pena. In an experimental setup, she and Miller recorded the time needed to register the QR codes under varying levels of ambient lighting, different scanning angles and distances, and varying levels of color contrast within the codes themselves.

With Pena’s guidance, Miller programmed a microcontroller, something he first encountered when competing in the For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition. He also learned how to design experiments and much more.

“When you do research, there’s no hand holding,” Miller said. “You have to figure out solutions with the resources you have.”

For students to succeed in the lab, they need a combination of ingenuity and curiosity, said Arce. “A passion for technology is really important,” he said. “A student certainly has to have good grades in the school that they’re at, but it’s a combination of things — it’s not just grades. You need to be involved and passionate about what you are doing.” As principal investigator or co-principal investigator, Arce has been responsible for close to $25 million in research funding from various Department of Defense organizations, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and industry.

The UD K-12 Engineering Outreach program offers seven-week summer internship opportunities for rising high school juniors and seniors. Highly qualified students work with UD faculty and students to learn about lab culture, current engineering research and how to prepare for college and employment.

“Students, like David, are selected using their transcripts, recommendations and interests — they have to be highly-qualified to join a lab,” said Melissa Jurist, academic program manager for UD’s K-12 Engineering Outreach. “They are matched with faculty in their area of interest, as much as possible. It is incredibly generous of our faculty to not only welcome, but also mentor our high school interns. The faculty have afforded the opportunities for these students to publish with them and, even, seek out a patent. It not only solidifies interest in engineering, but in a few cases, helps kids to decide they are interested in another field.”

 

Pile of QR codes

The research team aims to make smart QR codes more robust in different conditions. They record the time needed to register the QR codes under varying levels of ambient lighting, different scanning angles and distances, and varying levels of color contrast within the codes themselves.

Michael Vaughan, associate dean for engineering undergraduate education, said this program will help produce the engineers of the future.

“These are the kind of life-changing experiences we want high school students like David to have within our environment,” Vaughn said. “It is all about being immersed in the technology and contributing to the innovative solutions that only come into focus as teams of researchers combine their intellect, skill, talent, passion and creative energy. This is engineering at its best and by involving young people in this work more and more, we are securing a bright future of sustainable engineering talent to continue to tackle some of the most pressing technological challenges of our time and beyond.”

In 2017 and 2018, Miller attended UD K-12 Engineering Outreach’s Exploring Engineering camp for ninth and tenth graders. There is also a Young Engineers camp for sixth, seventh and eighth graders and a Younger Engineers camp for third, fourth and fifth graders.

2019, News A Running Start at Research