Studying propagation

February 25th, 2013, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Hans van Groenendaal, features editor, EngineerIT

In this monthly feature, Hans van de Groenendaal ZS6AKV, executive chairman of the South African Amateur Radio Development Trust (SAARDT), looks at various technologies and activities that drive amateur radio. SAARDT is dedicated to the development of amateur radio in South Africa with a special interest in the youth. The organisation is funded by donations and supports the South African Radio League and SA AMSAT.

Dané de Witt operating her dad’s amateur radio station.

In his State of the Nation address President Zuma said: “We declared education as an apex priority in 2009. We want to see everyone in the country realising that education is an essential service for our nation.” He made the statement with reference to teachers and strikes. It has however a much greater significance. He alluded to that when he said: “It means that we want the education sector and society as a whole to take education more seriously than is happing currently.”

A few years ago I interviewed thinking skills expert, Dr. Edward de Bono and asked him why so many scholars (learners) seem to show little enthusiasm for their studies. The goal seems to be to get a matric certificate to go to university or get a job. His reply was lack of experiential activity in the curriculum. He however admitted that today’s syllabi are so crowded with academic learning that there is no time during the school day to fit in experiential activity and neither do teachers have the time give attention to this. “But all is not lost”, he said. “there is opportunity to include experiential learning in extramural activities which, next to sport, should include various other activities ranging from computer science to electronics and robotics, to mention a few.”

In some schools we have seen amateur radio playing a role in creating interest in science and technology, subjects the president also addressed in his address. It is about hands-on experience. To achieve meaningful experiential learning in the extra-mural space requires dedicated parents and support from companies.

One of my amateur radio friends in the USA told me that his company made engineering staff available one Friday morning a month to spend at the local high school to talk about engineering and the importance of maths and science for a career in engineering. They showed the youth how exciting engineering is by relating what their job entails and the interesting projects they are involved in. Some became so involved that they supported activities at their local school in their spare time.

Last month I met a grade 10 learner who chose radio propagation for her science project. Learners have to ask a science question and provide the answer as the project. Dané de Witt asked the question “How does sun activity influence RF propagation and how does it compare with propagation forecasting programs?” To answer the question she and her father, Quartus, built a 100 mW beacon transmitter operating on 7048 kHz. Dané became a radio amateur four years ago and has a novice licence, on the callsign ZU6DD. She has now requested other radio amateurs to monitor the frequency and send reception reports to her. In a few month’s time, by using the reception reports she should be able to answer the science question. Her teacher was at first sceptical about this project but after she explained more about radio propagation, the teacher became as enthusiastic as Dané.

In the process Dané will learn a lot more. While her father provided the circuit and components, she had to build the beacon. It did not work the first time so more experimentation was required before the beacon was successfully put on air. To write the report she had to learn more about radio wave propagation and propagation prediction software. The report is available on www.spaceweather.co.za

If you happen to have a shortwave receiver that can receive Morse code, tune it to 7048 kHz and send a report to Dané – zu6dd@kripton.co.za.

Amateur radio offers young people who have an interest in electronics many experiential learning opportunities. And if their interest is in languages and foreign cultures, what better than to have regular radio contact with people in other countries? Other activities to consider are monitoring weather patterns and climate change, robotics or agricultural science projects. It needs imagination and a dedicated parent, grandfather or uncle! Support from a local company would be an added bonus.

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