Expanding Amateur Radio exhibit leads to kids discovering the excitement of wireless communications at South Florida Science Museum
We are the West Palm Beach Amateur Radio Group www.wpbarc.com (www.facebook.com/WestPalmBeachAmateurRadioGroupInc) and have built and operate a permanent Amateur Radio exhibit at the South Florida Science Museum www.sfsm.org/exhibits in West Palm Beach Florida. Both the Museum and our group are non-profit entities. They have given us the space to use but everything from the carpet on the floor, the paint on the walls, the overhead lighting, the electrical wiring and up has been donated and supplied by our members and limited supporters.
Most of our members are retirees on fixed incomes but were very active "Hams" when younger and stay active today. Our members ages range from 11 to 95. Most of us grew up in a world that was not "wired" and the excitement of wireless communications led many of us into science and technology careers. We are trying to pass that excitement on to a new generation of youngsters who are growing up in a "wired" world.
We know from past experience (especially in South Florida) that all forms of wired and short range communications (like cell phones) fail. Ham Radio does not fail. Hams have provided the back up for events like 9/11, Katrina, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Floods, Wildfires, etc. "When all else fails Amateur Radio works".
Hams have been the innovators of much of the technology of the last 100 years from radio itself to TV and on to cell phones, Packet communications that led to TCP/IP, satellite communications (we have 50+ satellites in orbit), space shuttle and space station communications, low power long distance communications, off the grid communications, and more.
The ranks of Amateur Radio have included Nobel Prize winning physicists, rock and roll stars, kings, congressmen and senators, network news anchors. academy award winning actors, and mostly just "regular" folks who have a little technical creativity and a desire to explore "what's out there".
Although there are more FCC licensed Hams in the US (over 700,000) than ever before, we need to get more youngsters interested and excited about wireless communications at an early age. For many this will lead them on a path to science and technology that will spawn a whole new generation of inventions and advancements.
The first time these youngsters get on the radio and call "CQ" (how hams look for a contact with someone else) and a voice comes back and responds to them is what we call a "Lasting Moment of First Excitement". There is a look of surprise and a glimmer of hope and excitement builds. They begin a conversation with a total stranger somewhere else in the world who wants to talk to them! They exchange their first name and age and where they are. When the voice from the other end tells them they are in New York or Indiana or England or Poland they begin to realize what they are actually doing. Talking around the country and the world "without" wires or cell towers. Their eyes "light up" and their smile broadens. They have done something for the first time that they did not even know was possible.
Some leave with just that experience as a memory, but many come back again and again and each time it is exciting and they want to know more about how it is done. How do the electrons leave the piece of wire (antenna) and travel around the world? How does the radio change their voice into just electrons in a wire? How does it pick up others and change them into voices? How do you know what is out there and how you can find it? The questions just keep coming and they are on the path to learning for fun.
We want to give this excitement to more youngsters. Out of the hundreds we see every day, on average, only 1 in 20 gets an actual QSO (2 way communication). This is the part that really gets them hooked on electronics and technology. We need to increase how many of the kids get this experience. And we want to get more interest in them at a young age in these fields.
We also want to build their interest and excitement with some hands-on technology exhibits. Let them see and touch things and make things happen right in front of them. And at the same time they will learn that science and technology can be fun and they are capable of doing it.
We are not allowed to charge for any of the things we do as Amateurs on the radio (that is what makes us Amateurs) just like college athletes are not supposed to get paid to play. So we do not make a product or a for sale service that is profit making.
What we create are smiles on young faces and inspiration in young minds. We introduce technology they did not know existed, get them to overcome fears of speaking into a microphone, instill a desire to learn more about electronics and technology, and for the lucky ones give them a "Lasting Moment of First Excitement".
But our facilities are on the very modest side. We just have pieces of wire as our antenna and our radios are loaned for a few days or a week at a time by club members. Most of these are older less sophisticated units that do not perform as well as more modern equipment. And there is a high voltage substation and distribution facility just in front of the Museum that causes interference to our signals. Although we get hundreds of youngsters visiting our exhibit every week, only a handful get to experience that "Lasting Moment of First Excitement" due to our limited facilities.
So we need to get a more modern radio and put up a tower next to the building with an antenna on it that will be high enough to get over the substation. We also need to add exhibits that explain how basic radio, electronics and antennas work for building the level of excitement. We want to give them more "hands on" with the electronics and technology side of things.
Our club members and Hams from other clubs man the exhibit room 7 days a week. We have volunteers that put in 30-40 hours every week and some that only put in a few hours a month. In total we volunteer close to 1000 hours a month. With so many retirees we have time to donate, time to teach, and time to inspire. But we do not have much in the way of capital to contribute to the cause.We do have a burning desire to get these youngsters involved with science and technology at a young age through the magic of Amateur Radio.
Nothing. The way KickStarter works is as an all or nothing system. If we do not reach our goal no one gets charged for their donation, and we get nothing.
We have primarily directed this to the Amateur Radio Community at large. We have had great press coverage from Amateur Radio News sites around the world. And we really appreciate them getting the word out. Hams talk a lot about getting young people interested in the hobby and now it's time for them to step up and do something to help that goal. I think most hams around the country and the world can afford $10 (or more). And they can certainly afford $1. That's the minimum amount. Just $1. NOW is the time to put up.
Of course we would love to have donations from KickStarter's. But we know most KickStarter projects are for products of one type or another. Some of which may get sold and become financial successes and launch careers and/or businesses. Our product is inspiring young minds and bringing smiles to young faces. Very different from the typical KickStarter project. But this is an excellent platform to tell our story and share it with the world. Unlike almost every other project on here we are not raising money for ourselves but to help other peoples kids open their minds to possibilities.
1) The Tower we need to get high enough to overcome obstructions is the largest cost. It needs to be a little over 70 feet. Plus it has to be wind rated at 70MPH minimum for our location in South Florida. Since most of our membership is in the Senior Citizen category climbing a tower to work on it is not practical. Plus we need something that can be cranked down to about 30 feet for higher winds where it will be attached to the side of the building . We often get storms with wind gusts in the 75-100MPH range. So we need a motorized crank system that can be operated with little physical strength. And the tower must be able to tilt over to bring the antenna down to ladder height for work or ground level for securing during a Hurricane with the antenna removed. Again this has to be done with minimal physical strength so we are looking at an aluminum tower whose weight will not be prohibitive. This will require a concrete base be poured (approx 3'x3'x3') and reinforced with re-bar to meet local codes. The tower still must be guyed when in the up position and that is included. The cost of the tower system is $9,000. This does not include the antenna but we already have a tri-band beam antenna and the cabling donated for our use. (This probably seems like a lot for a tower to Hams who use basic 25" sections of Rohn tower. But when they get into their 70's and 80's and move to South Florida and try that they will find it does not work in a Hurricane or high wind gust storms.)
2) The radio we are looking at is an Icom IC-7600 which we can get slightly used for $3500. This offers excellent receive capability, adequate transmit power, and a LCD display screen which will be useful in showing modern technology to kids who are used to smart phones and computers. It interfaces well with a PC and will let them see how a Radio (which is really a dedicated computer) and a Personal Computer are complimentary technologies.
3) We have specific exhibits we want to build for hands on use by the kids. We have looked at some already available exhibits by commercial museum suppliers but they are in the thousands of dollars and not quite as specific we want.
3A) We want a good demonstration of electrons flowing in a wire, the basic principle of all electronics. And from that moving to how electrons flow in solid state devices (computer chips, etc). And illustrating how a multilayer chip works inside. Cost of building this as planned is $800.
3B) Showing how radio (and TV) work wirelessly. We will have a simple transmitter / antenna circuit at one side of the exhibit and the kids will speak into a mike and/or tap a code key, at the other end of the exhibit will be a simple antenna / receiver where they will be able to hear what was said or keyed. If they key the code correctly it will decode and display on a screen. The background will show how radio waves are traveling In the air and in the middle will be an oscilloscope actually displaying the waveforms. Cost of this exhibit will be $1200.
3C) We want to get them involved with emergency planning for their families and will build a display exhibit that shows the types of emergencies they may expect and have literature for them to take home and work as a family project. The literature is supplied by FEMA, the ARRL and CitizenCorps. Cost for this exhibit is $100.
3D) We want to show practical examples of math and science use that involve fun activities. This will include a crystal radio kit (that can be purchased from the museum store). Demonstration of force and pressure by filling a balloon with air and then having the air used to move another object by throwing a switch, Using a lever and a fulcrum to lift a heavier object and measuring the force required as it varies with the fulcrum position, seeing the inside of a TV remote and watching the signals on an oscilloscope as they control a TV set. The cost for building this varying display is $400.
We are not looking for a "free lunch" here. We have paid for a lot already. The room we got was previously part of an aquarium display with walls painted very deep blue and no usable lighting or carpeting. It had been used for storage just before we were given access to it. Club members put over $12,000 in getting the room and equipment to the condition it is in now. And since most of our members are retired on fixed incomes (mostly just Social Security) we simply do not have the funds to continue expanding. What we collect in dues barely covers the costs of our required liability insurance and operating expenses for monthly meetings, etc. What we have is a lot of people with the time to do this but few with any money to do it. We continue to ask for donations at every meeting. But mostly they just cover the cost of the handouts we pass out to the kids and their parents.
pledged of $15,000 goal
seconds to go
Funding Unsuccessful This project reached the deadline without achieving its funding goal on August 30, 2012.
Jul 31, 2012 - Aug 30, 2012 (30 days)
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Picture of improved exhibit in use by youngsters.Estimated delivery: Nov 2012
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Picture of improved exhibit in use by youngsters.and a QSL card (confirmation) from WS4FSM with note from kids thanking you and a Personalized Letter thanking supporter signed by young visitors. and Your Name listed on our website and on a wall display as a Supporter. Will include a picture of the wall display with your name on it.Estimated delivery: Nov 2012
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Picture of improved exhibit in use by youngsters.and a QSL card (confirmation) from WS4FSM with note from kids thanking you and a Personalized Letter thanking supporter signed by young visitors. and your name listed on a permanent wall plaque as a Sponsor and our website as a Sponsor. Will include a picture of the plaque with your name on it.Estimated delivery: Nov 2012