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Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling

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Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling

Weather Watch: Using Drones in Research

Did you know that drones are being used at the University of Oklahoma to make advancements in the area of atmospheric sensing and sampling?

Researchers in OU’s Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling, or CASS, are on the leading edge of research using unmanned aerial vehicles to collect weather data in the lowest levels of the atmosphere.

CASS, which is supported through the Office of the Vice President for Research, was established in 2016 to expand upon the grant OU and three other universities received from the National Science Foundation for the collaborative CLOUD MAP project.

The research team features people from a variety of disciplines, including meteorology, computer science, data science and analytics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, computer engineering, civil engineering, and chemistry.

“I think students really enjoy going out in the field, the engineers enjoy trying to figure out better ways of developing the tools, and the atmospheric scientists enjoy new ways of getting data,” said Dr. Phil Chilson, the director of CASS and a professor in the School of Meteorology. “You see this really nice interplay, this nice energy, among all the different participants.”

Morgan Schneider

Each year, about 12 to 15 undergraduate students work on the CASS research team. They fill roles ranging from aerospace engineering students providing recommendations on designs for a launcher for an aircraft to computer engineering students swapping out autopilot systems in one of the planes to mechanical engineers doing structural design and welding.

Morgan Schneider, a meteorology senior from Chicago, Illinois, joined the research team during the spring semester of her sophomore year.

Schneider, this year’s outstanding senior for the OU College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, has loved weather ever since she was a little kid. Her dad was also a weather lover and a trained storm spotter, and Schneider recalled sitting on the porch with him and reading books he had related to severe weather storm spotting.

“I remember being 5, 6, 7 years old and getting really excited whenever storms started coming through,” Schneider recalled. “We don't get a lot of tornadoes in northern Illinois, but we do get a lot of squall lines. During the summer when these squall lines would come through, my dad and I would sit on the porch and just watch the lightning and listen to the thunder for hours.”

Now, with CASS, she takes a closer look at this topic that has interested her since childhood as she analyzes data collected by the drones in the boundary layer of the atmosphere. One specific project Schneider contributed to was looking at turbulent motion in the layer and using temperature measurements from various distances to form an idea of the intensity of the turbulence.

“The biggest thing I would say is if you find an opportunity that you're not sure about, go for it. You don't have to commit yourself for life to it, but you might end up finding a passion that you had no idea that you had.” - Morgan Schneider.

OU is classified as a comprehensive research university by the Carnegie Foundation, and undergraduate students have a wide array of opportunities to contribute to this research. Schneider encouraged students to not hesitate to get involved in a research topic they are not sure about. For example, she did not know anything about drones before working with CASS, and she did not think she was interested in boundary layer research but decided to take the opportunity when Dr. Chilson was looking for new undergraduate students for the project.

“The biggest thing I would say is if you find an opportunity that you're not sure about, go for it,” Schneider shared. “You don't have to commit yourself for life to it, but you might end up finding a passion that you had no idea that you had.”