This past week we visited California, trekking all over the Silicon Valley. The rising Juniors and Seniors of the EDI fellows toured Carbon, learning about 3D printing. We met with Greg Mulholland, CEO of Citrine Informatics and NA’03 alumnus. Over two dinners, we discussed technology, business, and engineering with two Norfolk Academy Alumni, one from Apple and a software Engineer from LinkedIn. At Autodesk, we received an invigorating tour of past projects, ending with a fun driving simulation. Vasper allowed us to get a workout in on their unique cooling machines after a thorough explanation of the processes involved. We went on to walk through the massive wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center and seeing demonstrations of the aerodynamics of flight in the Fluid Mechanics Lab. While in San Francisco, we explored the Bay Model and traversed the traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. The trip was very informative whilst staying fun and interactive. Every stop and person was full of adventure and we left with stories in mind.
This week has been a fun one. There were ups. There were downs. As a cohort we all bonded and learned more about ourselves and our friends. My favorite part of the trip was sitting down with Norfolk Academy alumni Michael Dekshenieks. Mr. Dekshenieks was a former football player, lacrosse player, and wrestler, and continued to play lacrosse at the University of Virginia. He participated in the ROTC program at UVA and then became a midshipman in the Navy for 6 years. After he left the Navy, he went to grad school and then out west to do consulting with start ups. I enjoyed my conversation with him greatly and learned a lot about ROTC, college, start ups, and life. It was particularly helpful for me because I am interested in ROTC and also the University of Virginia so I was able to ask very specific questions about his experience.
Additionally, I enjoyed our visit of Autodesk. Autodesk is a company that specializes in technology you would probably see in movies. From the tallest building in the world, to 3D printed shoes, they do it all. The thing that differentiates them from other companies is their variety. They focus on three field: architecture, video game design, and product design. No other companies attempts to tackle all three of these branches which makes Autodesk very cool.
This trip has been a fun one and prepared the EDI senior and junior class for a fun school year focusing on housing.
On the fourth day, we visited NASA Ames and got to not only see a smaller wind tunnel and water tank but we also walked into both the 1st and 2nd largest wind tunnels in the world! My uncle, Dr. Farid Haddad, and his colleague, Dr. Rob Fong, kindly led a 4-h tour of the facilities and answered many of our questions.
Our first stop was the Fluid Mechanics Lab (FML) where Rob works. Two interns showed us around and explained to us the work that they do there. Their job is to run small scale wind tunnel and water tests to determine how those models will perform in flight. In their lab, they have a 4 foot by 4 foot test section in the wind tunnel in which they can place models for testing.
My uncle explained to us the seemingly complex nature of a wind tunnel in simple terms. On one end, a fan generates the wind which then travels to a diffuser board to guarantee that the wind hits the object directly, not in a vortex. The object that is in the test section is then hit with the wind, where it is possible for them to take both quantitative and qualitative measurements.
We then traveled to the two larger wind tunnels, the 80×120 and 40×80. Rob explained to us how NASA engineers built the 80×120 and then expanded the facilities to include a 40×80 wind tunnel test area. A complex set of door-like veins close off certain sections that switch the flow of the wind for either a circular or linear flow.
From there, we walked in the wind tunnel! We started out in the 80×120 test section as my uncle explained how the test model is fixed and brought into the test area. We walked all the way down to the bottom of the air intake area and learned about different properties such as the sound proofing of the test section so that engineers can reduce the sound of helicopter and supersonic aircraft.
We then walked through a set of the door-like veins into where engineers control the air flow to the two test areas and into the massive turbines that draw in the outside air. The wooden blades were incredibly large about 3 humans tall. Rob explained that they still use wood because it is the easiest to fix and most reliable, although updating the wooden blades is highly debated among the scientific community of the Ames Wind Tunnel.
Last stop was the outside of the 80×120 wind tunnel intake, where we could view the ongoing construction of the Google’s new main campus. We took some photos outside and then it was time to head off to the escape room.
During our Silicon Valley 2019 summer experience, the 2020 and 2021 EDI Fellows met with NA’03 alumnus Greg Mulholland, the CEO of Citrine Informatics. Greg shared some of the lessons he learned at Norfolk Academy – lessons, which prepared him for success as a founder and CEO of a startup in a new market.
Greg’s three take-aways from Norfolk Academy
Surround yourself with the best people who give you honest feedback and clearly communicate.
Hone your writing ability. The Wuthering Heights paper and learning to avoid the passive voice were crucial for writing clear company materials and convincing proposals well.
Be driven and try new things. Greg attributed his ability to try new things and to push himself to teachers at Norfolk Academy like Mr. Tom Duquette and his advanced stats course. Teachers pushed him, he said to the EDI Fellows, yielding a confidence to try new things.
Standing before the next wave of innovators, Greg encouraged the EDI Fellows to ask about creating an inclusive culture as they meet with professionals from Silicon Valley companies. In the near future, he predicts that this will be a trait of successful adventures and professionals in Silicon Valley and the tech industry. He urged them to start thinking about how to create an inclusive culture and to learn from people who are most equipped to deal with this issue.
More Information on Citrine Informatics. Back in the old days of developing materials, companies relied on ‘the person.’ This person would have the experience, insight, or sheer luck to create a new material in the chemistry lab – a material that had better or desirable properties. It was a classic chemistry experiment. Greg and a few others saw a way to improve that process with computational analysis, creating a new market. Rather than the person with the ideas, Citrine Informatics aggregates the data and analyzes the past experiments to find the best solution that is multifaceted and yields the greatest improvement. One success story from Citrine Informatics is helping to discover the first two aluminum alloys that are not only approved for aeronautical use, but are weldable. Learn more here about Citrine Informatics.
On Thursday, we first visited Vasper Systems in the NASA Ames Research Park. There, we met with the founder, Peter Wasowski, who gave us a background on his company.
Vasper Systems (Vasper being short for Vascular Performance) focuses on developing exercise machines that use cooling and compression to create an effective and efficient workout. According to the company, their machines can give the same results of a 2-hour workout in 21 minutes. As explained by Peter, the cooling and compression “hacks” the human body to increase the production of growth and recovery hormones. The compression cuffs are worn on the arms and legs, where they compress the muscle to quickly build up lactic acid to an amount that would normally be gained through a hard and intense workout for a long period of time.
The cooling in the cuffs also helps more blood and oxygen to reach the muscles. Normally during a workout, the body temperature increases and more blood flows to the skin to help with sweating for cooling the body, which leaves less blood and oxygen for the muscles. By cooling the body, the blood oxygen levels remain high, and more blood reaches the muscles to give the oxygen and take away, which prevents the muscles from fatiguing heavily and increases performance. Also, it reduces or completely eliminates sweating, which is a nice addition.
These machines have helped many people recover from major injuries. For example, an Army Veteran, who suffered from spinal shock and was paralyzed from the waist down, was able to walk again with the assistance of a walker after 8 months of using the Vasper Machine. Vasper also develops machines for NASA astronauts. While they are in space, the absence of gravity makes it hard to do hard and intense exercises, and when they land back on Earth, they have to rebuild their muscles. Vasper creates machines to assist in these exercises.
After Peter’s presentation, we all did 10-minute sessions on the Vasper Machines. During my experience, I could feel the lactic acid building up under the cuffs (basically it hurt) and it was a tough workout, but in the end I wasn’t sweaty and it really felt like I had done a hard intensive workout in 10 minutes.
To round out our trip, we ended by doing an escape room. We split into two teams by mentor groups. My team was Nik, Sarah, Keon, Charlie, and I. The other team was Maguire, Leah, Olivia, Caitlin, and AJ. We both did the spy-themed escape room, which gave us 60 minutes to solve puzzles around the room to eventually find a small brass key. Our team worked well and we managed to get out in 38:05, but while we were waiting for the other team to finish, we could hear the other team, especially Maguire and Olivia, yelling at each other. They finished in 56:42 thanks to a misreading of a clock. In the end, it was fun way to wrap up our trip and bond with our mentor groups.
On Wednesday, July 17, the EDI Fellows set out on a visit to a professor at Stanford University. At around 10:30 we all met with Mr. Lo, a professor specializing in GPS. Mr. Lo and his students work on different parts of the Global Positioning System, or GPS. Some students specialize in attempting to fix the security problems in GPS. One potential problem with GPS is that anyone can send out a false satellite reading to customers and cause a person to go to a false location. The student working on this problem is working on software to fish out where exactly this satellite reading is coming from and how to stop the person that is sending the false readings. We also learned that the GPS chips in our phones are smaller than our fingernails and cost just a dollar. Mr. Lo taught us a lot of interesting facts that we did not know about GPS. We ended our meeting with Mr. Lo with a nice group picture and a walk to the beautiful Stanford Memorial Church. After our meeting, the group took a walk to the Hoover Tower that gave us an opportunity to see the campus at a nice height.
After a thirty-minute pit stop for lunch, the group went to The Tech Museum of Innovation. This was a nice way to interact with the activities. The favorite exhibit amongst the fellows was the cyber detective exhibit. This exhibit included an escape room that only took around 20 minutes. While the museum was fun and interactive, it was a great addition to the trip.
The ‘20 and ‘21 EDI fellows performed a hackathon today to prepare for a Middle School advisee competition next school year. The fellows were split into three groups, each providing several potential challenges for the competition and eventually each group chose one challenge to test. The final challenges included constructing an aluminum boat, transporting water from one cup to another, and halting the momentum of an orange rolling down a ramp. The teams then journeyed to Target to purchase the materials necessary for testing their challenges. Once we returned each group was randomly assigned a challenge and given 30 minutes to complete it. The groups then reconvened and reflected on how their testing went, offering insights and advice for improving the challenge they were assigned.
Later in the evening we went out to dinner at a place called Tied Brewery where we had the privilege of dining with a software engineer from LinkedIn named Baron Roberts. Mr. Roberts entertained us with stories from a major Silicon Valley company as we feasted on burgers and wings – a truly American dinner. Afterwards, we all went out for ice cream and returned to the hotel, educated and exhausted.
On Tuesday, the second day of our California trip, we continued to meet up with different companies and perform different activities. On this day, we met up with Greg Mulholland, the CEO of Citrine Informatics. His company develops new products and materials, which provide simpler and more effective solutions to some of the modern problems of engineering. In our meeting, we asked him questions pertaining to his pre-business life such as: “What helped you the most in the making of this company?” and “When did you decide you want to take this career path?” Additionally, we learned about some of the companies, with which Citrine partners, such as Mazda, Boeing, and Hyundai. Citrine also works with many smaller companies. As a group, I believe we learned a lot of useful information in the form of entrepreneurial and engineering insight.
Our second stop of the day was a tour of the Autodesk Gallery. During the second half of the Autodesk gallery, we observed many of the company’s projects and innovations such as a smoker which includes a USB port for a phone charger, a new plane model which is made of mostly see-through material, 3D-printed shoes, and finally, a driving simulator. We spent most of the time at the gallery driving the simulator. Each of us were able to try once. The simulator program was constructed from a scan of an entire real-life race course and programming the cars to handle and perform as their real-life counterparts. Because of this as well as our lack of knowing how to drive in a race, all but one of us ended up finishing in last place.
After our visit to Citrine Informatics, we traveled to Autodesk, where Scott, a Gallery ambassador and a software engineer, greeted us. The ambassador toured us through the gallery, showing various displays and models of innovations. One of these models especially stood out to me- the Shanghai Tower. The tower is the second tallest tower in the world, with the capability to house the population of a city, including living, office, and recreational space. Given the tremendous height of the tower, the designers needed a way to endure the force of the wind. As such, the tower is tapered and twists towards the top.
Our next stop was the Bay Model, which was a scaled-down version of the waterways around San Francisco. The model could mimic currents and the tide, making a helpful tool when determining future changes to the San Francisco Bay Area, like a bridge or other structure.
On July 15, the Senior and Junior cohorts of EDI Fellows spent 8 hours in airports, waking up very early to arrive at the Norfolk airport at 4 am. When we arrived at the San Jose airport, everyone piled into the 15 passenger van and we went across the street to In-N-Out Burger, which would be our first meal of the week. Soon after we were on the road again and headed to go to Carbon, Inc. to meet with Dr. Rene Lopez.
Carbon develops 3D printers that are then rented out to other partners or companies. These 3D printers have been used for many things, including Adidas shoes. The way the printer produces these objects is by projecting an image of UV light onto a liquid polymer to form a solid layer by layer, instead of printing it point by point – the traditional filament-based 3D printing method that we use at Norfolk Academy. After our tour, the majority of the group were experiencing jet lag, so a quick pit stop was made at Starbucks.
Following our Starbucks run, we headed off towards Apple Park to meet up with some Norfolk Academy alumni. There was a virtuality reality space, where we could view other Apple offices through the use of IPads, and a balcony to view the ring building, where most of the work goes on. Of course, most of us got caught up playing with the phones and seeing what merchandise they had for sale. Our day ended with dinner at Doppio Zero with the two alumni. Between chowing down on pizza and pasta, questions were asked, relationships were made, and laughter could be heard.
While our day was fun, arriving at the hotel may have been the best part, but that could have been due to the fact that we were all still tired.