Hopped up on Science

By Jenna Peneueta-Snyder

Hopped up on Science is a monthly STEM café organized by Dr. Aaron Kennedy, CRCS co-lead and Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at UND. Hosted by Half Brothers Brewing Company in downtown Grand Forks, the cafés meet during the academic year and feature presenters from various disciplines. This gives the community a chance to learn about a variety of topics and catch-up on the latest research being conducted in the region.

Kennedy decided to set up the STEM café due in part to the overall lack of science and educational forums in town.

“Science cafés have been around forever and there used to be some in town but overtime they went away,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s good for the public and researchers to interact and demonstrate the good that STEM provides.”

For this month’s café, the topic was “Droning on about drones: The science and policy of unmanned aircraft” presented by UND’s own Joe Vacek, lawyer and Professor of Aviation. Vacek’s research is heavily influenced and inspired by aerospace law and policy.

Drones are becoming increasingly common for both professional as well as recreational uses. High resolution image mapping, fire suppression, police tracking, and tourism were just a few of the examples Vacek laid out in his presentation.

While drones have arguably made life much more convenient, they have also been utilized for mal intent such as disrupting flights and delivering contraband.

For the past two years, Vacek’s research has focused on policy to identify these negative utilizations and stop them. He also addresses issues of privacy and a question he gets asked quite a bit: Can I shoot a drone down?

“If it’s too close–and you’ll know when it’s too close– if you’re standing in your garden and can swat at it with your garden hose, then you can shoot it down,” said Vacek. “But you might still face some consequences.”

Currently, Vacek has a patent pending on an Autonomous UAS Detection and Mitigation program which identifies foreign drones over a particular air space. This system then gathers data on the drone such as its flight path and elevation and analyzes the drone’s behavior. If the drone is intruding or acting suspicious, corrective action can then be taken.

Next month on March 20th, the STEM café will feature Dr. Nuri Oncel, from UND’s department of Physics. His topic is Nanoscience/Nanotechnology.

The Hopped up on Science STEM café meets once a month during the fall and spring semesters. For more information, and a complete list of presentations, visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HoppeduponScience/​ .