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Justin Lidard

Bagley
Intern/Mentor G/T Pd. 1
15 January 2016
Reflection Paper
Working in the Air and Missile Defense sector at the Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Lab has been everything I thought it would beand more. Im an ASPIRE Intern, and as
such I work with a team of interns (Anyka, Syona, Isabella, and Anina) towards building a shortrange, Doppler-sensing, Synthetic Aperture Radar. My mentor, Julius Verzosa, along with his
office mate, Reid McCargar, supervise us as we design and build circuit paths, generate Matlab
code to control and interpret a signal running through the circuit, create Graphical User
Interfaces (GUIs) to assist anyone who wishes to control the radar, and finally, build the radar
itself. The radar will be used primarily to detect the position of an object in an open field, and as
it gets more refined, to detect the motion of that object in a more crowed environment. As its
name implies, the SAR radar will eventually perform inverse SAR as it tracks the motion of a
moving aerial vehicle, such as a small drone, and help it land autonomously.
About a year ago, I was skeptical of the Intern-Mentor program as a whole. Seeing my
friends stay up until 4 AM working on their midterms several hours before they were due made
me question the return on investment on dealing with a weekly research commitment on top of
several significant course work assignments. After reluctantly applying and getting accepted, my
work so far has been the absolute converse of what I expected; the daunting assignments that I so

dreaded before my senior year taught me what is necessary to be a productive young


professional: research, reflection, and most importantly, hard work.
I knew this internship was going to be great as soon as I walked into Juliuss office after
APL orientation. Coleen DAgrosa had just finished giving an interesting discourse about the
history of APL in addition to the possible benefits of working there, and I stopped by to visit
Julius. After introducing me to an Analog-to-Digital converter, which allowed them to record a
piece of music by sending the data through an analog circuit, Reid quizzed me on Calculus and
got to work giving me my first lecture in complex numbers and circuit theory. We breezed
through the circuit diagram of the radar, several trigonometric definitions in the complex plane,
Eulers formula, and the current task we had been assigned at the time: building a low-pass filter.
After the first day, I knew two things: this internship was going to be the hardest I would ever
work thus far to wrap my head around something, and it was going to be endlessly rewarding.
Before I had a chance to apply everything I learned in school, from Ohms Law to
integral calculus using complex numbers, I seriously underestimated the value, and expectation,
of ones ability not to reproduce mathematical or engineering breakthroughs, but to create new
ones. I, along with the team of interns I worked with, was able to integrate everything from
circuitry to Matlab code to wave physics into working Doppler radar, but not without learning
how to do preliminary research. Having several mentors to guide us on our project, I started to
appreciate the constant demand for meeting deadlines, and that my mentors may not have time to
micromanage our progress and assign tasks daily. I learned to take initiative in the preliminary
research that I do, and therefore Im always either working on a task, or preparing for the next.

The aforementioned application of calculus, electromagnetics, complex numbers, and


wave physics was by no means an easy task. Reid and Julius each gave us, the interns, several
semi-private or even one-on-one lessons concerning circuit diagrams, Fourier Transforms, and
identities in the complex plane, some lasting over an hour. Over time, this college-level material
started to wash over my brain, imbuing me with a deeper understanding of the inner complexities
of radio-frequency engineering. Another daunting obstacle was the shocking reality that Google
is not always effective. Working with highly specific and advanced topics, there were only so
many articles that provide instructions on how to construct a radar as well as code to go with it.
We found ourselves often relying on our fundamental knowledge of electronics, physics, and
calculus to persevere through construction difficulties on our own.
Several defining moments stand out in the construction of our circuitry. I truly started my
path to engineering greatness when Anyka and I fried an operational amplifier (op-amp) by
putting it in the circuit board the wrong way. Shortly after hearing a loud popping noise and
frantically unplugging the electricity supplying the red-hot, almost molten metal of the input pin,
we had a short laugh after another engineer entered the lab and remarked, mmm, whats
cooking? He clearly knew that two nervous young interns had broken their first piece of cheap
equipment, and I felt, of all things, more comfortable with the necessity of roadblocks in the
process of engineering and design.
As of late, Ive just started learning Matlab, and its been a lot of fun. A woman named
Katie showed us the basics of Graphical User Interfaces in a presentation to three of us mentees
as well as our mentors, and her Voting Machinea simple vote counter for favorite petswas
a very informative way to teach us some of Matlabs most useful functions, including the GUI
Guide and the several related functions. Matlab seems to be a lot like Java, since one can choose

to make variables available to all classes (global) or hidden (non-global), and from what Ive
seen so far, Im guessing this will be incredibly useful for multi-person projects where variable
names may change from function to function, or remain the same across all functions. I plan on
making the Vote Machine a lot more complex in the coming weeks, which will tremendously
build my skill in the scripting language.
Finishing large milestones are always extremely memorable, some of which have been
completing a working low-pass filter and getting impedance measurements for our antennae. As
a first-year Electricity & Magnetism student, I can attest that building a circuit of the caliber of
the low-pass filter was no easy feat, considering I had almost no knowledge of any electronics
devices at the time it was built. After many weeks of trial-and-error, dozens of internet searches
for any morsel of a hint, and several learned lessons about the importance of continual
documentation, we proved that the filter worked by observing, using an oscilloscope, the
accelerated attenuation of a generated frequency as the frequency increased. Building the filter
made building the accompanying component, a simple amplifier, much easier. Using a Site
Master Voltage Standing Wave Ratio (VSWR) measuring device, we were able to measure the
impedance, or operational electrical resistance, of the antennas for our radar model. As we have
learned, networking is both very crucial and consequently, accessible at APL. We talked to a
specialist in hardware named Cristina, who helped us become familiar with the device, and we
learned a lot about the importance of quality connections (the cheapest high-frequency BNC
cables can run $500!).
As it currently stands, all of the components of the radar have been designed, many
preliminary componentsincluding the circuit board, antennae, and amplifiers and mixers
have been built, and we are currently waiting to integrate the entire electronic system. I would

like to see this radar far surpass the first model that was built this past summer by accurately
obtaining distance readings in a number of environments. One key to achieving this benchmark
will be to develop our code using sound physics and logic, and I plan on doing a lot a Matlab
review to make this possible. After we achieve a working radar, we will start to uncover the true
fruits of radio-frequency devices as we employ Doppler and SAR techniques towards modeling
the previously mentioned path of a small drone.