University Rover Challenge 2017: Ryerson Rams Robotics (R3) in Hanksville, Utah

By Michel Kiflen, R3 Science Lead, Undergraduate student in the Biomedical Science program

“Life, in it’s most fundamental sense, is a good design of polymers”, was how I started my 2017 University Rover Challenge (URC) presentation at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah desert.

Backtrack to the middle of summer 2016, I received a recruitment email from the Ryerson Rams Robotics (R3), a group of engineering students interested in building a Mars rover for the submission to the international URC competition.

One of the main requirements for the rover was to extract and analyze a soil sample to give a strong argument for the evidence of life. As one of the Science Leads of R3, I was given the responsibility to work with other engineers on the team to solve this. It turned out to be a greater challenge that I anticipated, since the URC committee required the whole process to be done in 20 minutes. Nonetheless, our team developed new protocols and systems to combat this problem in under 5 minutes. As far as we know, no one in the scientific community has been able to do this using traditional methods.

After the rover and corresponding tests were complete, we flew to Salt Lake City, Utah and drove south to the MDRS, located in Hanksville, Utah. This region is one of the closest representations of the red planet. Reaching the MDRS is impossible without a vehicle. The entry is barred with many peaks and hills, with a single path intertwined between the terrain. It is easily one of the most remote, and extreme places I have visited.

There is no cellphone service for kilometres and the closest clinic is a 90-minute helicopter ride away. Temperatures reach upwards of 40 ºC, making everyone vulnerable to severe heat exposure.

Nevertheless, we setup our mobile lab in the back of our trucks, whether we were in the arid desert or in the parking lot of our hotel, continuously practicing and timing our tests days leading up to the competition…

 

“Life, in it’s most fundamental sense, is a good design of polymers.”

***

            After a series of questions and comments from the judges, we scored 11th place, worldwide.

I believe our success at the URC was because all of us, engineers and science students, are truly passionate about the programs we are in. We received direction and advice from Ryerson faculty, and had a keen interest to apply our learnt skill sets from the classroom to applications such as programming, building, and experimenting. I anticipate extending my knowledge even further as I continue to grow and undertake more projects.

As we packed our Rover back to Ryerson University and conducted a postmortem of our scores, I looked back at how participating in a challenge this large affects one’s learning. I have a strong biological research background, however, I lacked dexterity in robotics almost entirely. Joining this team allowed everyone, including myself to work in an interdisciplinary manner where our strengths were amplified.

I learnt many engineering concepts such as in materials physics when the team researched different building materials for the Rover. Additionally, working on this Rover under R3 is the largest project and leadership role I have undertaken in terms of work output and number of collaborators.  I learned to keep a more rigorous calendar and schedule to ensure I was in sync with all four sub-teams under R3.

For my concluding remarks, I would like to mention that if you have the opportunity to participate in activities that come with huge challenges, you definitely should – you must.

The experience of meeting students outside my faculty, let alone students from universities all around the world, put common interests and central themes into perspective.

As for the URC, it is Mars and its eventual colonization. Mars is the future. My motivation to write an email to R3 was because I believe Mars is the next challenge that we need to tackle, and opportunities such as these contribute to the larger goal that is bigger than all of us. We should strive for boundless human endeavour. From the dawn of human existence ~300,000 years ago, there has always been an intrinsic feeling, a motivation to explore and a craving to seek beyond the horizon. It is this ‘essential instinctual element’ that allowed us to disperse out of Africa and later cross the Beringian land bridge. Mars’ mystery represents fascination, excitement, and incalculable opportunity that extends beyond anything anyone has done.

“Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds promising untold opportunities — beckon. Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.”

– Carl Sagan

fin.

Working Towards Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Reflections on my AIESEC exchange in Taiwan

By Michael Pham, Undergraduate student in the School of Business Management, Ted Rogers School of Management and President of AIESEC Ryerson

Note from the Editor: AIESEC is the world’s largest non-profit youth-run organization. It helps develop global-minded leaders by sending students and graduates abroad through its global volunteer, talent and entrepreneurship programs. Michael Pham participated in AIESEC’s Global Volunteer exchange program, which focuses on achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

I chose to go abroad because I feel strongly that in the landscape of today, the key to leadership is to understand the world around you.

My entire world has always been the city I live and study in. Before participating in AIESEC’s exchange program, I knew that I wanted to challenge myself.

I once heard a quote saying that you only grow as a person when you are uncomfortable and I knew that I was too comfortable in my city, in my bubble. I wanted to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Having never been outside Canada before this exchange, my view on the world was solely from the Canadian perspective. At that point in my life, I hadn’t even been to every province in Canada, so for my first international experience, I thought why not go directly to the other side of the world – and so I chose Taiwan.

I chose to do AIESEC’s Global Volunteer exchange program, where I would volunteer for 6 weeks at an elementary school called Nan’an, located just north of Kaohsiung City in Taiwan. I taught English and created structured lesson plans for topics based on Diversity, Cross-Cultural Sharing, and Climate Change. My exchange focused on working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Quality Education (SDG #4) and Climate Action (SDG #13). I was able to not only be a teacher to the students at the school, but I was a student myself learning from the culture of Taiwan. I was able to take part in religious and traditional celebrations at school.

My favourite part of my exchange was the entire experience of course! The food was so cheap and delicious, and the sights were beautiful and surreal.

It is so hard to narrow it down to what I liked most, but I think it would be the people that I met on the exchange. Every person who I met has made a lifelong impact on me and I was able to develop bonds that I will have for life. My host families, my students, the teachers, the fellow exchange participants, and the friends, as well as fellow AIESECers who I met abroad are all people who I will always remember. Even after the exchange, we still stay in contact, sharing daily slices of our lives, even though we are on the opposite sides of the world.

I think the beauty of an AIESEC exchange is that the experience doesn’t end after your exchange. If I could give any tip to someone considering an exchange, it would be to always keep an open mind.

There will be ups and downs, and challenges. The exchange is meant for you to discover yourself and unlock your leadership potential through cross cultural understanding. It isn’t just a vacation, although sometimes it feels like one. Be willing to accept the fact that you will only grow by feeling uncomfortable.

A final tip I would say is go somewhere you never imagined yourself going to because you’ll find yourself wanting to go back immediately once you leave.

AIESEC RYERSON IS HIRING!

AIESEC is the world’s largest non-profit youth-run organization. AIESEC helps develop global-minded leaders by sending students and graduates abroad through AIESEC’s global internship programs.

If you want to experience the rewarding feeling of being able to make a difference in other students’ lives, join the RYERSON team!

AIESEC Ryerson is looking for motivated students who wish to gain leadership skills while contributing to something much greater than themselves. As the world’s largest youth-run, non-profit organization, AIESEC develops leadership through facilitating cross-cultural experiences and exchange opportunities!

Interested in joining the team? We have positions open in Marketing and Communications, Finance, and Alumni Relations!

 Steps to Apply:

  1. View job descriptions
  2. Submit application form
  3. Email your resume to recruitment.aiesecryerson@gmail.com

View job descriptions here: http://bit.ly/2rAfAZk

Apply here: https://goo.gl/forms/2aXI0EKjjxuUwIR13

* Deadline for applications and resume submission is on June 6th @11:59PM 

** Only successful applicants will be contacted for interviews

*** Interviews will happen between June 7th – June 10th

Post written by Jessie Ng, Vice-President of Marketing and Communications at AIESEC Ryerson. Jessie is a Marketing student in the Business Management program at the Ted Rogers School of Management.