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Engineering Freshman Academy Students Visit ISI

"We want to show them how bright are the lights at the end of the tunnel"
Eric Mankin
December 04, 2007 — Dozens of Viterbi School of Engineering freshmen poured off a bus and explored the corridors of the School's Information Sciences Institute on a November Friday.
Hall, center, with budding engineers at ISI. 
ISI project leader and computer science research associate professor Mary Hall helped Viterbi's Kate Baxter organize the first-ever Academy lab tour of ISI, in which a delegation of about 50 young students visited ISI research sites in subgroups of ten.
"I went on the ISI tour because I had previously seen presentations on the work being done at ISI, which I found to be quite interesting," said Ben Vatterot, who helped organize from the student side.

The tour looked in on seven laboratories, including the Contour Crafting "print-a-house" effort; the MOSIS chip fabrication contracting service, chip design and microarchitectures, sensor network construction, reconfigurable robots, the DETER cyber-defense lab; and the Lunar lander project..

Student Vatterot found much to engage his interest: " I previously had no idea the amount of research and planning that went into just a single chip, as well as all the time spent creating software to utilize the chip," he said.

His favorite? "The contour crafting device, which is able to build a 2-story house in less than 24 hours. Such a device could have a huge impact in how we respond to disasters such as Katrina and the California wildfires.

"Professors and employees seemed to love everything about their work, which showed in their enthusiasm and willingness to share their research," he continued.

"Furthermore, the trip provided the opportunity to connect with these professors and their projects, allowing myself and other undergraduates to conduct research.

This was the idea, Hall says. The Viterbi School Freshman Academies are a continuing effort to expose young engineers, typically swamped with introductory course work, to the rewards and promise of engineering.

"We want to show them how bright are the lights at the end of the tunnel," said Hall. "And ISI is a perfect place to do so."