Students make satellite facility data accessible

<i>UAF GI photo by Elle Fournier</i><br>From left, Kirk Hogenson, Alaska Satellite Facility software engineer; ASF student employees Hal Dimarchi, William Horn and Rohan Weeden; and ASF Director Nettie LaBelle-Hamer gather in the ASF office. 
UAF GI photo by Elle Fournier
From left, Kirk Hogenson, Alaska Satellite Facility software engineer; ASF student employees Hal Dimarchi, William Horn and Rohan Weeden; and ASF director Nettie LaBelle-Hamer gather in the ASF office.

Three undergraduate student employees of the Alaska Satellite Facility are collaborating to make satellite data more accessible.

Hal Dimarchi, Rohan Weeden and William Horn are all students in the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ computer science program. They are working at  the satellite facility over the summer as a team to develop a program to help interpret data collected by satellites.

This student team is picking up where last summer’s student group left off, taking radar data and creating algorithms to help synthesize useful information.

“We are writing a piece of software where you can write programs and scripts,” said Weeden.

The software, called an application programming interface or API, gives users who are not extensively trained in satellite data analysis a way to use information collected from Earth imaging.

This is important because satellite data is complex — taking years of study to learn how to analyze — but also extremely useful for the public. State and local agencies can apply the data to earthquake monitoring, infrastructure design and more.

By creating this software, “we are making it easy to automate the process of getting data,” said Horn.

The three students use a software development framework called scrum, which helps the team work together effectively. Part of the scrum framework involves taking work to a client early on, to get feedback before the team puts in several more hours of work.

“It is really helpful to actually hear what the end-user wants,” said Horn.

Just as the students are learning to work in a team-oriented setting, they are also building skills relevant to their field. The students have to develop new skills for this project, including using an entirely different programming language than they have learned through their UAF coursework.

“Computer science is always changing, and it’s important to be able to adapt quickly,” said Weeden.

All of the students appreciate the position as a resume builder and a chance to test out their major field before graduation.

“Computer science is such a huge field, you can’t figure everything out just from a class,” said Dimarchi. “This job helps me see if I can actually enjoy computer science in practice.”

While this project is contributing to one of ASF’s core goals, making its data more available and usable, creating a good development opportunity for UAF students is equally important, said ASF software engineer Kirk Hogenson, who manages the student group.

“ASF is part of the UAF community; we want to contribute by giving students jobs and cool things to do,” said Hogenson.

To learn more about the Alaska Satellite Facility, which is part of the UAF Geophysical Institute,visit https://www.asf.alaska.edu/.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Nettie LaBelle-Hamer, 907-474-6167, nettie.labellehamer@alaska.edu