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ORISE offers scholarship opportunities to students pursuing careers in STEM

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

ORISE offers scholarship opportunities to students pursuing careers in STEM

Instruments: A Problem in the Solution

Technology plays a key role in many fields, but it is not without limitations. Although technology has helped to make great advancements in data collection, there are times that the instruments themselves interfere in the measurements. The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is hosting a problem-based challenge for undergraduate students. The challenge for undergraduates is to identify a situation in which an instrument interferes with its own measurements and data collection, and to propose a solution to the problem. Your proposal could win you a $5,000 scholarship! The deadline for this competition is Wednesday, April 3, 2019, and winners will be announced in early May.


1st place:  $ 5,000 scholarship

2nd place:  $ 3,000 scholarship

3rd place: $ 1,000 scholarship

The Challenge:

Ed Dumas, an affiliate of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained a problem in using drones as an instrument to measure weather data: Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) has been making wind measurements for years using gust probes attached to fixed-wing full-scale aircraft, and this technology is well-characterized. Probes have been tested in a wind tunnel and the uncertainty in both the wind measurements made from the gust probe and the velocity and angles (pitch, roll, and heading) of the platform itself that are combined to make the final wind measurement have been accurately characterized.  Because NOAA has been able to characterize the uncertainty in each of the components that comprise the wind measurement, there is confidence in the ability of the overall system to accurately measure winds with respect to the Earth.

However, similar measurements are not as well characterized from a multi-rotor platform.  The biggest challenge is the disruption of the local airflow that is made by the multiple propellers used to keep the vehicle aloft.  Eddies from these propellers can destroy the existing eddies in the atmosphere and severely contaminate the wind measurement. 

Drones measuring wind gusts are not the only example of an instrument interfering with its own measurements. Another example is attempting to measure absolute zero on the Kelvin scale using a thermometer. At absolute zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius), atoms stop moving. Absolute zero cannot currently be measured because the particles of the thermometer are moving, which raises the temperature of the substance being measured by keeping the atoms in motion. While this temperature difference is an insignificant amount at temperatures that we experience daily, it is a major problem when measuring absolute zero. So while the thermometer readings can approach absolute zero, the current thermometer technology is not capable of accurately measuring it.

Your task:

Identify a situation in which an instrument interferes with its own measurements and data collection and propose a solution to the problem. You must provide supporting evidence in your proposal to explain why your solution is likely to be successful.


  • Applicants must be undergraduate students at a college or university in the United States who will also be enrolled at a college or university in the 2020 summer or fall semester.
  • A proposal should include 1) a detailed explanation of a problem with an instrument that can cause issues with accurate data collection 2) a detailed proposed solution to that problem 3) supporting evidence for why the solution would be effective and the benefits of the solution to the field
  • A proposal can be in the format of your choice: paper, video, presentation, etc.
  • Think about the effects the problem has on the field and the potential benefits of the solution.
  • Proposals must be submitted on the following form: https://orausurvey.orau.org/n/February2019UndergraduateCompetition.aspx
  • Proposals will be graded based on this rubric.
  • We are looking for ingenuity in solution and presentation.
  • Students are only eligible to win the ORISE STEM Scholarship twice in their undergraduate career.

How to Enter:

Not Sure How to Start?

  • Think of innovative ways to use instruments not already used in specific fields, such as the above example of using drones to measure wind gusts.
  • Think of a currently used instrument that could be improved on or adapted, such as the example with the thermometer.
  • Think outside the box!
  • You can solve the problem to one of the example instruments or think of your own! Notice that originality is a line on the scoring rubric.