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Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

How the FC tech club won a NASA competition

Meet the men who beat out 4-year schools like Cal Poly Pomona and Fresno State in the 2024 NASA MINDS competition, by designing a tool to find objects lost in space.
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Dylan Arreola
From left to right, Sagar Shah, Brandon Marcus and Sumiran Mishra look over their award-winning RFID-based tracking system on Monday, April 29.

It was 2 a.m. on a Saturday when three members from the Applied Engineering Club FJC were testing out the hardware on what would become their award-winning tracking system built for the NASA MINDS competition. Frustrated, project lead Raymond Chbeir and team members Adrian Munoz Gallardo and Jaime Alvarez found that their system was not working. It was three days before their project had to be presented to a panel of esteemed judges hand-picked by NASA to evaluate their system.

They didn’t have enough power to turn on their system. With Alvarez asleep in his chair, Chbeir looked to Gallardo to ask if he had wired it correctly. Gallardo answered “yes.” Chbeir was shocked to find that it needed more than five AMPs of power to turn on. Five AMPs is equivalent to how much power a house runs off of.

Ready to run back to his house to get more power, Chbeir asked one last time if Gallardo wired the system correctly. Annoyed, Gallardo answered “yes” again. Before Chbeir left, however, he looked to find that the system wasn’t wired correctly. If they hadn’t caught it in time, the system and its power source would have been fried.

This chaotic mistake could have been costly for the team built out of the Applied Engineering Club at Fullerton College.

However, it’s through what Chbeir calls “perfect chaos,” that the team won the competition, beating out schools from all over the country, and even Puerto Rico.

The Applied Engineering Club FJC team joyously group hugs as the news of them winning the NASA MINDS competition is told to them on Friday, May 3. (Joseph Pavlenko)

NASA MINDS is a competition for Minority Serving Institutions to create a design that could be used by astronauts in space. If a team wins the competition, they will get an award consisting of up to $3,000 and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The design could even be worked on by NASA scientists and engineers on a larger scale and used in the Artemis mission, a mission that plans to send the first woman and person of color to the moon and the first people to Mars.

Out of the 29 projects they could have chosen to participate in the competition, they chose to follow the guidelines for building an inventory tracking system.

The Applied Engineering Club FJC’s award-winning RFID-based tracking system. (Dylan Arreola)

“NASA had a bunch of tools lost in space because they switch crews a lot and all of them speak different languages,” said Chbeir. “Sometimes, they misplace stuff, and when they try to find it, it takes either hours or days to locate because of their outdated system.”

Knowing this problem, the Applied Engineering Club FJC team created a radio frequency identification (RFID)-based system that can identify where the general location of an object is in under nine seconds. They also created a handheld device that can help to guide the astronauts to the lost item’s precise location.

“This was an impressive presentation. I really like the fact that they took the time to think about the impact of their system in our mission and for commercial entities. They went through the trouble of thinking how it is going to go beyond what they were doing,” said one judge during the team’s project presentation for NASA MINDS.

Brandon Marcus (left) sits alongside Sumiran Mishra (right) at the NASA MINDS Awards Ceremony on Friday, May 3. (Joseph Pavlenko )

The Applied Engineering Club FJC team consists of 10 members, each with different talents that served unique purposes on the project.

Chbeir was the team lead. Shahmir Ahmad worked on the hardware and the electronics along with Gallardo.

“Some of the biggest problems we faced were from the antennas. Me and Adrian got the antennas and we’re looking at the spec sheet and the actual antenna, and they didn’t match up,” said Chbeir. “We had to figure out a way to counter it. One antenna, antenna five, had so much range, we had to add shielding from behind to block some of the radio waves.”

Brandon Marcus led the software sub-group, along with HyungJoo Yoon and 17-year-old Sagar Shah, “Short Circuit” to his friends, following his lead.

“I coded the antennas Adrian and Raymond got based on the assumption that everything worked properly. In order to make the tracking the best possible, I made it very precise,” said Yoon. “The problem was that the hardware wasn’t precise, so we’d just get random errors. The coding I did didn’t work because of antenna five.”

Sumiran Mishra worked on the coding while Alvarez, who was there with Gallardo and Chbeir on that Saturday night, worked on the physics for the signal transmission, and Rodrigo Timis worked on mapping and data analysis. Alex Montes followed with the CAD, or computer aided design, of the system.

“What really impressed me was that I’m sure the rest of the team was super frustrated and demoralized, but everyone just got to work to fix it,” said Yoon. “Rodrigo was like ‘Alright, fine. I’ll try to redo the graphing for the antennas.’ I was so impressed that everyone kept their [stuff] together after such a huge setback.”

The Applied Engineering Club FJC snaps selfies with HyungJoo Yoon as the news of them winning the NASA MINDS competition is delivered. (Joseph Pavlenko)

The project started when Alvarez shared the idea about doing the competition with the Applied Engineering Club.

“I brought the idea to the engineering club and basically presented the idea on the projector,” said Alvarez. “I talked to Raymond about it afterwards as well and he said that he wanted to sign up for it.”

This conversation led to Chbeir and Alvarez being the first to fully enter the project.

“As me and him were filling out the paperwork, we flipped a coin on who should take the lead,” said Chbeir. “He won, but he let me take the lead instead.”

Chbeir and Alvarez didn’t just let anyone into the project. They let in the people who they knew would contribute to the planned design, which is how they made their super group.

“Our process, mostly Raymond’s process, was we just reached out to people who we knew would work on it. We changed the people on the project a little bit, but it remained the same mostly throughout the project,” said Alvarez.

Team leader and former Applied Engineering Club president Raymond Chbeir (left) helps to lead the club’s spring elections on Thursday, May 2. (Jose Vazquez)

One person who greatly supported them in their endeavors was Ken Starkman, the dean of the Technology and Engineering Division, who helped them to find sponsors. Through Starkman’s help, they got $1,500 worth of funding for the competition.

“Anything we need, genuinely, Ken Starkman pulls it through for us. Nothing would have happened without him; I have the utmost respect for him. He even put stuff on his own credit card so it came faster for the project,” said Chbeir.

As many of the members’ journeys at Fullerton College come to an end, their futures burn bright, with many of them taking their next educational steps at prestigious universities.

“It doesn’t seem like it, but our group is actually full of giga-nerds,” said Yoon. “Raymond might be going to Berkeley or UCLA, Jaime is doing an internship at MIT, so all of us are just super ambitious.”

As for some of the other graduating members, Gallardo has already started university at Cal Poly Pomona and Yoon has started his journey at California State University, Fullerton. Mishra will be going to CSUF and Ahmad to UC Irvine in fall 2024. Shah, who is a junior in high school, is doing a summer internship with the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

While the team might never be able to work all together again, Chbeir described the Applied Engineering Club FJC in six words:

“We were lightning in a bottle.”

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About the Contributors
Sara Leon
Sara Leon, Managing Editor
Sara Leon is the Managing Editor for The Hornet and has been on the newspaper for four semesters.  She is a four-time award winning  journalist. Sara has won second place in ACP Best of Show- Broadcast Feature Story and fourth place in Critical Review from JACC for her review and corresponding video of the indie film "Nowhere." She also has earned honorable mention awards from JACC for Profile Feature Story covering a 12-year old student at Fullerton College and Audio Podcast as the producer of Around the Hornet. While Managing Editor in Spring 2023, The Hornet finished seventh place in ACP Best of Show for Website, 2-year campus and received recognition for General Excellence: Online News Site from JACC. From 2023-2024, Sara was also the JACC Student Representative for all community college journalism students in Southern California that are memebers of JACC. Sara enjoys exploring, watching scary movies, and learning about new things. Her end goal in the journalism field is to become a news anchor for ABC Eyewitness News.
Jose Vazquez
Jose Vazquez, Staff Photographer
Jose Vazquez is a returning staff photographer for The Hornet. Jose wants to tell people's stories and cover points of interest in our culture's conflicts, politics, history, and the obscure. His focus currently is on the emerging music and art scene in Southern California. Jose is currently studying at Fullerton College where he is working towards a bachelor’s degree in photography and journalism. He also volunteers at a nonprofit art house movie theatre in Santa Ana, the historic Frida Theatre. In his free time, he creates videos on his YouTube channel and plays drums in a garage gaze band called Black Star Meadow.
Dylan Arreola
Dylan Arreola, Staff Reporter
Dylan Arreola is in his first semester working for The Hornet. He focuses on photography and arts. He enjoys backpacking and rock climbing in his free time.

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