Science & Tech
For some students, the story of their introduction to research begins with a search for a willing professor.
For Nathan Williams, a junior electrical engineering major, the story begins with an anecdote about shoes.
“I hate shoes,” he said. “One of my professors (noticed me) in one of the (Loyola Science Center)study rooms — you know, without any shoes on … He asked me if I wanted to get involved in the reflective solar tracker project … he didn’t know I already had a degree in electronics technology.”
Williams transferred to The University with a two-year degree from Scranton’s Johnson College of Technology. Not long afterwards, he began working with Professor Nicholas Truncale and several students to develop an innovative reflective solar tracker (RST).
“Surprisingly, no one has ever done it,” Williams said. “They’ve done tracking and they’ve done reflection, but they’ve never done them both together.”
Currently on display on the second floor of the LSC, the RST yields 140 percent more energy output than a traditional solar panel by combining a rotating base with reflective panels. Two of the highly successful RSTs were sent to Uganda in 2013: the first to charge battery-powered devices and light schoolrooms in the evening, the second to power a water pump. The following February, Williams filed a joint patent for the digital tracking device with Truncale and co-authored a paper on the project in the publication The MagPi.
The team gained finalist status this year in the Intel-Cornell Cup. For the competition, the team will upgrade the RST to a universal motor-controlled pointing device capable of performing tracking tasks using a set of predefined routines.
“We’re using a bunch of different components that already exist and … putting them together in a way that nobody has [considered] before,” Williams said.
When not working with his RST team, Williams serves as the president of The University’s Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE); he is the second junior to hold the title. He is currently preparing for the regional conference, where he will lead an original submission to the micromouse competition that uses image processing to help a mechanical mouse self-navigate a maze.
Outside of The University’s laboratories, Williams works with a local engineering team on product development. Maintaining the position necessitates a careful balance between work, RST/IEEE and classes, but he enjoys the work and hopes to continue after graduation. Although initially set on going to graduate school, he has since decided against this, citing a preference for the more hands-on aspect of his field. Currently, he plans to start a business that combines his current work with a 3-D printing service. Even while describing business plans, however, he displays a devotion to the developmental aspects of his field.
“I’m not in it for the profit,” Williams said. “I want people to be able to use (what I) create … Someone starts the idea, and someone makes it better. As long as someone’s willing to put in a little bit of the legwork to get it started, that’s how everything gets kicked off, for the most part.”