UTC Jones Observatory has been opening its dome for star gazers since 1936. It was in desperate need of rehab, as the doors to the dome were operated manually. Budget constraints have delayed upgrades at the observatory, but this semester Dr. Michel E. Holder’s electrical engineering students stepped in with their senior class project.
“The students have automated opening and closing the doors of the dome,” Holder said. “They also performed a fine adjustment of the observatory’s telescope. This is Chattanooga’s only high-powered telescope.”
Intricate work performed by the students may not be understood by the public, but the results are obvious to the appreciative observatory staff, housed in the UTC Department of Physics, Geology and Astronomy.
“They helped bring the observatory into the 21st century,” said Jack Pitkin, Operations Manager of the UTC Jones Observatory. “The dome was built in 1936 with appropriate materials and technology of the time. To open the dome with a series of cables hasn’t gotten any easier over the years. It was working, but just barely.”
Pitkin said the student engineers installed an elegant system that can be activated with the flick of a switch.
“They considered power failure, how to automatically stop the process manually and even an emergency shut down procedure,” Pitkin said.
Work began on the project in mid-spring semester, according to student Christy Snyder. Both Snyder and Walter Hooper said the project taught them about circuit board fabrication and electrical code for wiring.
Pitkin said he hopes this senior project will be the cornerstone for other electrical improvements at the observatory. Holder would like to see a future senior electrical engineering project synchronize the observatory’s telescope with the dome, taking into account the rotation of the earth.