Electronics Workshop at General Atomics

Larry Malone, Co-Director of FOSS, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 04, 2002 | Professional Development

A comment last fall over supper with Larry Woolf led to a conversation in January. That conversation started the planning process that culminated in the FOSS Electronics weeklong summer workshop at General Atomics, June 23–28, 2002.

Top image: FOSS Electronics Institute Participants

Larry is an engineer in the Advanced Materials division at General Atomics, a major research and development company with a long-standing reputation for innovation and production of state-of-the-art materials, processes, and technologies. Of particular interest to us at FOSS was Larry's proactive interest in science education. Larry introduced us to Pat Winter, Executive Director of the General Atomics Sciences Education Foundation, and the plan fell into place.

A small group of middle and high school educators from around the country converged on a little beachside hotel in Encinitas, California. From there we carpooled each day the 15 miles to La Jolla where the GA campus is located. Sunday we got to know one another, opened the Electronics Course kit, and had a nice reception at GA. Monday we knuckled down and started working our way through the course. After a grueling day on the circuit, meeting only minimal resistance along the way, it was clear that the group had potential. We finished the day with a pool party hosted by Larry and Wendy Woolf.

Tuesday was more of the same, with the always-popular diversion of dissecting a pile of broken and discarded electronic devices. This was Steve Weiss's day to shine. Having had the opportunity to test drive the course with students, his anecdotal accounts of the terrific experiences they had were great. One standard procedure in Steve's class was to break open a sample of every component introduced into the course. Batteries, bulbs, resistors, capacitors...everything fell under the hammer and tongs. With Steve in the company, no component remained shrouded for long.

Tuesday afternoon we toured the GA Fusion Research Lab. We were treated to a short demonstration of the existence and behavior of plasma, the fourth state of matter, and then on to the research chamber, the Tokamak. The research on fusion reactions will one day produce the new technologies to power the world. Right now they are grappling with the gnarly problems of containment. What kind of vessel do you use to hold a plasma soup at several million degrees? That evening we reconvened at a local Mexican restaurant to recharge our batteries.


Terry golden and José Gonzalez dissect an electronic device.

Wednesday we encountered our first solid state device, the silicon diode, and soon after, the capacitor. After coming to terms with LEDs (light emitting diodes), we knocked off early so we could all take advantage of the gorgeous local environment. The crew from Texas headed south of the border, while some went to Coronado Island, others to the world-famous zoo, and the rest to the local botanical garden.

Thursday we tackled the concept of current and Ohm's law and took a field trip to a nearby company, Hardy Instruments. The company president, Dave Ness, gave us a quick rundown of the company's mission, the range of industrial measurement products they develop and manufacture, and the kinds of academic preparation and interpersonal skills needed to be effective in a high-tech, interdisciplinary-team working environment. After a quick lunch, we carpooled across campus to the maglev unit. The Urban Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) Team is engineering an urban transportation system that travels silently and efficiently on a magnetic field. Once the train has a small forward motion, it rises off its tracks and glides virtually friction free on its way. Terry Golden and Steve were particularly interested because their city, Pittsburgh, has been proposed as the site for the pilot installation. That night... Alabama B-B-Q at Big Jim's. Yum.

Friday we did a quick dance with transistors and put a wrap on it. The week charged by, but we all had a rich experience with the FOSS Electronics Course, thanks to the support provided by General Atomics.