Category Archives: Winter 2012

Eric Thomas and Demitri Hopkins …

Eric Thomas and Demitri Hopkins

Eric Thomas and Demitri Hopkins

If the depth of their passion for scientific inquiry is an indication of the outcome of their work, the nation’s dependence on fossil fuel may be coming to an end sooner rather than later. Eric Thomas and Demitri Hopkins, two 18-year-old first-year STEM students are working on a project that would create clean fusion energy – essentially converting hydrogen molecules found in water into energy.

The two Centralia College students have developed what they believe is a new design that could make this happen.

Before you pooh-pooh this you need to know that they’ve already amazed scientists by building their own reactor and creating a short burst of energy through the fusion process in a lab setting. The two were part of a threesome that, earlier this year, earned the Best of Category Award in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering at the Intel Internal Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. Because of the quality and originality of their work, they were invited to meet with President Barack Obama who commended their work and encouraged them to continue. All this while still in high school in Oregon.

“It’s something that’s not too common,” said Thomas. To say the least.

One of their goals now is to further develop their process that would create clean fusion energy on a larger, economically feasible scale. The energy would come from hydrogen in water, leading the way to that brave new world that, so far, is the stuff of science fiction.

The current popular process is to create energy using thermonuclear fusion, very hot and not very practical for powering an automobile. Thomas and Hopkins are working to create energy at much lower temperatures, thereby using less energy to create energy and do it practically.

“Of course it’s possible,” said Michael Threapleton, Centralia College physics professor who is mentoring the students. “They have great enthusiasm and are engaged in scientific research, designing and building their own equipment. It’s important to support efforts that engage the curiosity of students.” Centralia College has the faculty and resources to provide high quality support for students, provide direction as well as equipment and supplies that will help them. Equipment can be purchased through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The two students will want to have access to nuclear materials and Threapleton will make sure that it is used properly and safely.

So why did these young men choose Centralia College?

“We were so caught up in our research and building our reactor that we flat out missed deadlines for applying to college,” said Thomas. The scientist/mentor they were working with advised the two to check out the STEM program at Centralia College, which has a strong reputation in the sciences, the New Science Center, and the NSF grant.

“Centralia College has a really good reputation and we’ve had good meetings with Professor Threapleton. We talked to him about the project and he is very knowledgeable. He is very involved with his students and that’s good. We’re glad we’re here,” Hopkins and Thomas both agreed.

Their goal is to continue their research, earn transfer degrees and move on to the University of Washington. They have already developed relationships with faculty in the Plasma Science and Innovation Center at the UW and have worked with the university’s nuclear reactor.

Who knows, perhaps sometime in the near future we’ll be filling up our cars at the water fountain knowing that the efforts of these two young men helped make it all possible.

Electronics, Robotics, and Automation …

ERA students

ERA students

Four of the students in the college’s Electronics, Robotics, and Automation (ERA) program have formed a bond that will carry them through the coming year (or two) as they train for employment.

Each of the four comes from a different background but all are optimistic about a successful job hunt in their field. The four, Nick Walker, Darrell Delph, Gabriel Lopossa, and Paul Pullman, are first and second year students who share a common outlook and purpose.

“Automation and the electronics behind it will offer a lot of jobs,” said Delph, a 1990 Olympia High School grad. Delph has a long history of working different jobs, mostly in the trades.

“I see this (ERA) as adding another skill set. I can build almost anything when it comes to housing and this program makes sense. I’ll be able to do more. This program covers the systems I want to know. One thing I really like about this program (he’s in his second year) is that it’s hands-on. We’re doing things in labs that people already working in the field are doing. That’s important, it’s great training.”

Then there’s the issue of jobs. “There’s no doubt in my mind that getting a job will not be a problem,” Pullman, a Tumwater High School graduate who is in his first year in the ERA program, said. “Intel is building new plants and they will need people. Intel will be looking for people to fill their plants. Centralia College has a partnership with Intel and when they hire, we’ll be ready.”

Pullman was a Running Start student and attended New Market Skills Center where he got his first look at robotics. After high school he had had enough schooling and felt it was time to take a break and went on a church mission to Mexico for two years. When he returned he looked to his passion in robotics as a logical career path.

“It’s something that stuck with me. I had heard about the (ERA) program at Centralia College. People were saying good things about it,” Pullman said. “And I think there are going to be good jobs.”

Gabriel Lopossa and Pullman were close friends. “Paul came to me on a Friday and said we were going to school on Monday (the first day of fall quarter classes at Centralia College). That looked like the best of the options available so the two enrolled.

Lopossa had been trying to get a job as a music teacher but things were not opening up. “I know things will turn around for me in (ERA). It looks like so many things are and will be automated. This will be a great skill to have,” said Lopossa. “The jobs will be there and we will be making money.”

Walker is a 2002 WF West High School graduate. He agrees that companies, such as Intel, will continue hiring. He reflected that Intel is putting money into new facilities in Oregon and other states and will continue to hire people to work in them.

“I’ve taken computer and some other classes. I have a broad base education and have a broad spectrum of skills. I have eight months until I need to have a job. I’m not too worried.”

Meanwhile, the four, along with other first and second year ERA students will be getting a closer look at the robotic arm (in the photo on page 25) that will be used as a standard training tool. The arm is a relative new-comer to the college and requires certification before it becomes functional. That certification is expected to come soon. The robotic arm was donated by Cardinal Glass.

Aubrey Urban

Aubrey Urban

Aubrey Urban

Aubrey Lynn Urban, a second year Centralia College student from Adna, may not know exactly what she wants to do as far as a career is concerned but she knows that a good education is the foundation for her success. Right now she keeps a busy schedule that helps her explore her options.

She believes that a college education is important because it sets the stage for your future. “If you don’t go to college, you may not find your best job. Some folks, like my dad who works at the mine, were able to find good jobs but that doesn’t usually happen without a college degree,” she said.

Her college life isn’t all about books and study; she helped lead the planning for the Zombie Walk and worked to make the Costume Dodge Ball event successful. Those were happenings that are part of her on-campus role as the Recreation Coordinator on the Student Activities Admissions Team (SAAT). Aubrey was also a big part of the planning for the “Volley for the Cure” tailgate party and other events designed to celebrate October as Breast Cancer Awareness month.

On the academic side, she knows that she will get an associate degree in biology, setting the stage for a career in the sciences. Now she is taking biology and chemistry and that’s a full load in itself!

When asked why she was majoring in biology, Aubrey said, “I like how the body works and I really enjoy biology. I don’t know yet where I want to go with this or the job I’ll end up with, but I do know that it will be something in the science/biology field.”

Urban chose Centralia College because of the closeness of the school to her home and the affordable cost. She stressed the importance of attending college and not having to take out loans for the first two years. She received Centralia College Foundation scholarships last year and this year and said that has helped so much in her education. Urban said that she appreciates the availability of financial aid. (Centralia College students are receiving more than $8 million in the loans, grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid.)

The college experience is helping Urban in other ways. “Centralia College has really helped me ‘get out of my box.’ When I came here from Adna, I was somewhat introverted, but after getting used to the campus and my classes, I definitely came out of my shell. I like it here a lot. The small campus and class sizes are great. The teachers are easy to access and in a large university that isn’t usually possible.”

The first part of last year she didn’t attend campus events “until I was asked to get involved by a member of SAAT. I went to the acrobatic show in Corbet and it was great. That’s when I knew I wanted to be on SAAT,” Urban said.

“I enjoy my teachers at Centralia College. I am in Dr. Ruby’s (chemistry professor Dr. Ruby Nagelkerke) class this quarter and she is helping me understand chemistry better. Dr. Norton (biology professor Dr. Steve Norton) is my advisor and he is so intelligent and a big help.” Aubrey said she would recommend Centralia College to others for a number of reasons. She compared it a bit to her smaller high school “where you get to see familiar faces and feel secure and safe.”

If you see her on campus, ask about the Student Activities Admissions Team or any other club or organization on campus so you, too, can get involved!

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