Alumni, faculty, and students foster cultural exchange at World Scout Jamboree

When more than 40,000 scouts from more than 150 countries gathered in West Virginia this summer, the University of Virginia School of Engineering joined their adventure. Science and technology played a key role in the World Scout Jamboree’s cultural exchange, fostered by faculty and alumni of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. UVA’s Gamma Pi chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Electrical and Computer Engineering honor society, IEEE-HKN, championed the event, under the leadership of professor Harry Powell. In addition to Powell, alumnus Dudley White and professors Steve Wilson and Keith Williams also supported the event. 

Volunteers partnered with the jamboree’s international support team to conduct outreach and technology demonstrations as part of the Living in the 21st Century program of STEM-themed activities focused on inclusiveness and sustainability. “We helped a diverse population of motivated young people use their abilities to visualize and conceptualize the electromagnetic spectrum,” Powell said.

Scouts and volunteers around computer in UVA tent at World Scout Jamboree

Through a simple exhibit of microwave reflectors, scouts learned how a solar collector absorbs and converts the sun’s microwaves into thermal energy. Powell and White provided DIY kits that the scouts used to build radio transmitters, which the scouts paired with commercial relays to practice communicating in Morse code.

Ph.D. students Dustin Widmann and Chris Moore provided a lab in which scouts learned how to scan and visualize the electromagnetic spectrum with affordable software-defined radios. This radio system performs required signal processing in software instead of using dedicated integrated circuits in hardware. Because software can be easily modified in the radio system, the same hardware can be software-reconfigured to implement many kinds of radios for many different communications standards, for various applications.

The World Scout Jamboree provided six laptops, a large display, and an excellent space to demonstrate the radio technology. The team used an inexpensive software defined radio USB stick to provide radio data to a software-defined radio program running on a personal computer; the computer program demodulated the radio signal to play FM radio on the speakers. The scouts saw radio signals on the monitor and searched for stations.

Using the same computers, Tommy Tracy, II, a UVA post-doctoral researcher in computer engineering, demonstrated aircraft radar, which the scouts’ international support team used to show aircraft traveling overhead. From this activity, the scouts learned how easy it is to use software-defined radio to visualize and decode signals that are traveling through space.

Scouts and volunteers pose by UVA banner at world scout jamboree

“This was 100 percent a team effort, and a testament to the beauty of our organization at UVA. We look forward to future opportunities to help global STEM initiatives,” said Chris Moore, Ph.D. student of electrical and computer engineering (third from left).