New Mexico Organizations and the FRA Transform K-12 Rail Education with LEWIS Sensors, Railroad Rides using sensors from Alvarado Station to Bernalillo

New Mexico Organizations and the FRA Transform K-12 Rail Education with LEWIS Sensors, Railroad Rides using sensors from Alvarado Station to Bernalillo

New Mexico Organizations and the FRA Transform K-12 Rail Education with LEWIS Sensors, Railroad Rides using sensors from Alvarado Station to Bernalillo

The Federal Railroad Administration supports a 3-year program led by The University of New Mexico with Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Stanford University.  This program is led by UNM professor and former New Mexico Consortium scientist Fernando Moreu. Moreu reports that they recently had their 2nd year workshop this summer with a great attendance and are seeing their STEM efforts paying off with the youth of New Mexico.

Dr. Moreu says the role of railroads can be an inspiration to the youth of New Mexico. This year they had children and families join from Borderland Family Ties to participate. They drove from Southern New Mexico to Albuquerque , NM and spent two days learning with railroad employees, engineers, NGOs, etc.

Companies involved included ESCA Consultants (Rich Payne), Stantec (Dr. Xinxing Yuan), and BNSF (Lee Hostler and Lewis Ruder). NGOs include Borderland Family Ties and The Ke’yah Advanced Rural Manufacturing Alliance (KARMA), represented by Vanessa Knox and Keanu Jones, respectively, who brought their leadership and education services to the participating youth. Other Universities present were Carnegie Mellon University and University of Tennessee Knoxville, represented by Dr. Katherine Flannigan and Dr. Nick Wierschem, respectively.

This project is led by the University of New Mexico in collaboration with Florida State University and Stanford University, represented by Dr. Charlenne Caldwell and Jatin Agrawal (on behalf of Prof. Haeyoung Noh).  What is this project about? The Federal Railroad Administration or FRA has a plan to transform K-12 education by inspiring interest in STEM using sensors, 3D printing, robots, and Augmented Reality. Engaging K-12 students in the study of railroads using technology such as low-cost sensors can bring excitement and hands-on learning to the classroom. Sensors are used to track the movement of trains and provide real-time data on various aspects such as speed change and movement of the railroad car.

During this summer event, the three universities organized different activities and workshops for participating K-12 students to engage them in learning about the railroad using low-cost sensors and new technologies. This was their second annual workshop and the event surpassed over 100 attendees. In the words of Program Manager Hugh Thompson, “I have never had such a packed two days with so many different people related to our mission. It has been, in a good sense, overwhelming of content, experiences, and surpassing any goal for our program”. Dr. Jiwi Chong and Dr. Javier Suarez mentored the team and assisted in the field. Annaliese Ward toured the Super Computer Center at the Center for Advanced Research and Computing. Professor Suarez a visiting scholar from Madariaga Program from Spain, and Dr. Jiwi Chong, visiting scholar at SMILab, assisted the activities at Bernalillo station.

Mahsa Sanei, PhD student in engineering at UNM spearheaded the workshop. Sanei identifies that attendees interest in the activities provided have escalated annually, since they started the project in 2022. Ali Khorasani compares the program between year 2 and 1 by saying, “I can’t imagine how big year 3 will be! It grew exponentially, and year 1 was already 54 students and 20 adults.” Other students involved include Christian Torres, Jahsyel Rojas and Fabiola Reyes summer interns from CHRES project, a hybrid energy program prioritizing the future of energy. Fabiola assisted Mahsa in the hardware preparation. Dr. Jiwi Chong and Dr. Javier Suarez mentored the team and assisted in the field. Annaliese Ward toured the Super Computer Center at the Center for Advanced Research and Computing. Wyatt Saeger, Isaac May, Gabriella Gallegos, Kaveh Malek, Ronan Reza, Elias Mosco, Guille Toledo, and Hayden Lamons assisted in the sensor activities and training.

This technology used in the workshop can be easily integrated into educational programs to help students understand the science behind railroads, including physics, engineering, and data analysis. One of the primary benefits of using low-cost sensors in K-12 rail education is that it allows students to visualize the concepts they are learning. By seeing the data generated by the sensors, students can better understand how trains move, why they travel at certain speeds, and how various factors can impact their journey. This data can also be used to spark discussions about the efficiency of rail transportation and how it compares to other modes of transportation.

The future of the railroads is bright!

You can read more on this work at www.smartrailroads.org and www.smilab.unm.edu.