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Facebook can be a waste of time–full of cat pictures and click-bait articles–but I would not sit here in the suit lab today, if I had not scrolled down my endless feed one night last December when I discovered a post about internships at the OeWF that immediately caught my attention. Me, that is a 17-year-old student at Sir Karl Popper School from Vienna, Austria, named Moritz Stephan.
Looking back, it hurts how quickly my time here passed by. I could write a whole book about the numerous lessons I learned, the inspiring people I met, and the projects I poured all my energy into. Still, I will try to keep it brief, but first I need to provide some context: I had a double role since there were not only my respective internship projects, but I was also allowed to work on an experiment for the AMADEE-18 mission, initiated by the student researcher team that I am part of.
My high-school is by no means specialized on the practical applications of science and technology, so I had a steep learning curve and dealt with tasks I had never performed before. In my ÖWF-intern role, I completed an array of little projects, ranging from creating maintenance procedures and systematically testing professional mobile radios (PMR) to demonstrating how to steer the Dignity Mars rover to curious children during one of our public outreach workshops. Though, for me the most interesting task was helping to organize the European Mars Conference–a 3-day-long event full of dialogue, presentations, and activities with the scientific vanguards of Mars research, organized by the OeWF. My responsibility was working out a schedule for the presentations and informing the people who had submitted an abstract whether it was accepted or rejected. I diligently read through all of the abstracts, summarizing and assigning them a score for their overall quality to facilitate the final decisions in the selection process. Then, I grouped them by topic and filled in the time table in an order that made thematic sense. Afterwards the schedule was integrated into the conference program, and I could send out all of the emails with the final decisions. Reading all the abstracts was not just fun but educational as well, and their thematic diversity was fascinating–the EMC 2017 will be incredible!
The junior researcher project I am running with two friends aims to develop a second prototype of our wind-driven Mars rover “Tumbleweed”. The first one was already functional and won the International Odysseus Space Contest, but we wanted to test a more advanced version in Oman as part of the AMADEE-18 mission. While at the OeWF, aiming to get feedback on our ideas, I contacted several scientists and companies with expertise in topics crucial to the implementation of collapsibility, energy self-sufficiency, and efficient computing. In addition, I experimented with machine learning libraries and frameworks such as Tensorflow, Keras, SciKit, and OpenCV, used for visual classification tasks and data analysis. I was able to retrain a deep neural network with pictures of different tools, teaching it how to distinguish e.g. between a hammer and a screwdriver, which can actually be achieved very quickly and easily through online-tutorials and open-source code. Taking what I had learned about the capabilities of such systems, I constructed a schematic plan of the software architecture needed to implement the recognition of canyons, holes, weirdly shaped rocks, and anomalies in temperature, pressure, and atmospheric gas composition into our project. Thankfully, some of people at the OeWF were quite knowledgeable about these topics and could provide help whenever I had troubles or open questions.
The time at the ÖWF gave me incredibly funny and smart colleagues from whom I could learn skills my school never taught me. It gave me responsibility and enabled me to put my critical reading and planning capabilities to use. And it provided me with the freedom to explore, to familiarize myself with new concepts and implement them in a promising project. Gladly, I can say that I will be back soon for the AMADEE-18 mission.
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