A day in the life of… Spencer

By Spencer Matteson

Internship Project: Free Ocean CO2 Experiment Environmental Chassis

Internship Mentor: Chad Kecy (Instrumentation Development Engineer)

Description of Project: I am building a custom printed circuit board that will monitor humidity, temperature, pressure, and the presence of H2O within the electronics enclosure as well as the direction of the FOCE flume.

Technical Detail: I am using a PIC24 microprocessor to control the data flow out of twenty sensors that monitor the various conditions mentioned above.  Many are analog devices so it was necessary that I convert the analog signal to a digital string using an analog-to-digital converter that output over the SPI bus on the microprocessor.  This allowed for the integration of multiple sensors while using relatively few I/O pins on the microprocessor.  When I could, I used sensors that output directly to the SPI bus.

The PCB that I am designing then samples the data from the sensors and transmits it on another SPI bus to the main CPU board designed by my mentor Chad Kecy.  This is where any intensive processing is handled and data is redirected to various storage devices or alerts.  The two boards communicate through a backplane that also supplies power and the digital location of the board.  It also provides slots for up to eight daughter boards; my environmental sensor board would be one of these boards.

The Average Day of This MBARI Intern: The day usually starts out with a few cups of coffee and some break room chat with some of the engineers/scientists who are also in the coffee room.  Next I check my email to determine if there is anything important that I take care of or exciting plans that I can look forward to.  Once the email check is complete, I continue on to check my to do list which tells me what I was working on when I left the previous work day or what I should do now.  Then comes the actual work with designing, checking and reading schematics and datasheets.

Lunch usually rolls around at 12:30.  A few of the interns usually meet up in the Benthos Commons to eat and chat about what we have been working on.  After lunch I usually return to work until 3 when seminars are held or when there aren’t seminars, another coffee break.  Then more work until 5:30 or 6pm which is when I get to go home.

The world's greastest vanpool!

Why Engineering: I became interested in engineering in a roundabout way.  I was always interested in archaeology and anthropology because of TV shows and movies when I was a kid.  Films like Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider made those fields seem thrilling.  I was also very interested in the idea of lost civilizations that could be uncovered through research based science.  Things like Atlantis and the Mu were always catching my interest.  So I decided that I would try to become an archeologist but unfortunately, archeology and anthropology is painfully tedious and boring.  I also had very little desire to write papers every week in college not to mention that all the reading killed any sort of social life I had.

I had always been good at sciences like chemistry and physics as well as math and at some point in time one of my teachers suggested that I might use my talent in these fields to pursue my interests in exploration.  Because of this, I began college as an electrical engineer with my main interest in robotics.  Unfortunately, I dislike programming about as much as essays so robotics which requires copious amounts of programming took a back seat and analog and digital hardware design became my interest.  I completed my undergraduate career by designing and building a sensor platform that monitored environmental conditions on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.  That confirmed my interest in instrumentation and while MBARI is more interested in exploring the natural occurrences in the ocean, it satisfies my desire to explore the unknown.

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