UB Engineering Students with Eclipse Glasses

UPDATE (08/21/2017): Our engineering students and faculty are in Kentucky this morning working with NASA to live stream the solar eclipse.

To view the NASA live stream, visit eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream.

To view the Connecticut Space Grant Team 1 (University of Bridgeport) stream, click here eclipse.stream.live.

For behind-the-scenes coverage, check out the UB Snapchat (@UBridgeport) as our engineering students take over live from Paducah, KY. For more updates, follow coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. #UBridgeport


A misty rain fell as a team of graduate engineering students made their way onto the UB soccer field, delicately holding an umbrella over a pale pink machine – a payload that on Monday will travel via high-altitude balloon 80,000 feet and live stream the total solar eclipse.

The women’s soccer team stopped practicing and gathered quickly around the six UB engineering graduate students, members of the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium Eclipse Ballooning Team, who, along with top university researchers across the U.S., are assisting NASA during the solar eclipse Monday. They discussed their work and passed out solar eclipse glasses that have fast become the have-to-have-but-can’t-get accessory of 2017.

“Oh yeah!” said Ariana Weingrad, a senior on the soccer team. “We were just talking about the eclipse in the training room. This is great!”

“Alright!” another player said and tried a pair on. Soon, the whole team had the glasses on. They took a group shot with the engineering students, a barrage of selfies and then passed the glasses on to their assistant coach for safe keeping. “Don’t let them get rained on,” Weingrad said.

The team will be out on the practice field Monday at the time of the eclipse. “So we’ll be wearing these,” Kendra Fitzpatrick, a junior on the team, said. “This is really cool.” They wished the engineering students good luck and got back to their drills.

Everywhere the engineering students went, passing out solar eclipse glasses on the soccer field, at the Scribe Café, stopping in Payroll and Purchasing, the Security office, and fanning out through the Admissions office, there was a palpable buzz. “Thank you!” Admissions Counselor Barbara Benedict said as she held her glasses. “They say it’s going to be a combination of Woodstock and a major storm evacuation with all the traffic and everyone stopping what they are doing to see. I’ll definitely be wearing these and watching. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

The trip around campus was one of the very last items on the punch list before the students make a 16-hour bus ride to drive to Paducah, Kentucky, where on Monday, about an hour before the eclipse, they’ll launch five high-altitude weather balloons, collecting atmospheric data for scientific research and carrying recording devices to live stream the eclipse.

Engineering Professor Dr. Jani Macari Pallis leads the team of students, Shiva Sundaram, Masheshwari Kumar Rakkappan, Richard Johnson Selvaraj, Suresh Kumar Moru, Rochen Krishna Thashnath and Xuan Zhang Sam. They are joined by rising juniors Ryan Gay, Ryan Dang and Hritesh Bhargava of Fairchild Wheeler School of Aerospace/Hydrospace Engineering & Physical Sciences who have been working with the team since last fall. Other Consortium team members include engineers from the University of Hartford and the Discovery Museum and Planetarium in Bridgeport. Dang said having the chance to go to Kentucky for the launch – and the year’s worth of work with the team that preceded it – “is like the best field trip ever but on a field trip you see and you learn. With this, we’ve learned by doing.”

Students, faculty, staff and administrators were noticeably knocked out by the glasses that this morning were selling on eBay for $49.99 a pair. With counterfeit glasses being sold all over and newspapers around the country reporting that the authentic glasses are sold out everywhere, students explained that these were the real deal: NASA approved eclipse-wear. But what UB community members said truly wowed them was that the UB students were playing an integral role at this unique moment in history.

“It is a brilliant reminder of our position in the universe,” President Neil A. Salonen said. “That we are an insignificant speck in the universe and yet we’re not. When you contemplate the overall scale of things in the universe, it’s phenomenal. And the work the students have done – that’s phenomenal as well.”

The students gave President Salonen his own pair of glasses, showed him the intricacies of the payload and talked about the months they spent preparing and perfecting their work. “Of 55 teams we were the one team that got the tracking perfectly,” Kumar Rakkappan said.

“We are so proud of you,” President Salonen told them.

Friday was a heady day for the students that began after just a few short hours of sleep. “We worked in the lab until two this morning,” Richard Selvaraj Johnson said.

“Three in the morning!” another team member corrected. They had been testing and retesting their work in an engineering lab, fueled by McDonald’s coffee and Kumar Rakkappan’s lemon rice. Still, they showed no signs of slowing as they were interviewed by News 12 and Channel 7 News and then passed out the glasses. Whenever they stopped, they were peppered with questions and rooted on. “It’s so exciting to see them have this kind of opportunity,” Director of Accounts Payable/Purchasing Jacqueline Reeves said. “It’s a door opening to the larger world.”

“It’s just awesome,” Vice President of Facilities George Estrada said, as he popped on the glasses. “Having the opportunity to collaborate in the way they have is so important.”
Mary Ellen Rivera-Lucy and Lina Dogali, baristas at the Scribe Café, said they both intended to don their new glasses and step out to watch as the day darkens Monday. Rivera-Lucy wondered what other kinds of changes a total eclipse might bring. They chatted about that for a bit and then talked about the work the students were doing. “It’s very exciting that our UB students are part of this but I’m not surprised,” Dogali said.

“They’re very smart.”

As they passed out the last of the glasses, the engineering students contemplated the late nights, the endless computations, the trial and error and the collaborations over the last year and half. “Everything was worth it,” Moru said.

When the launching begins Monday, Sundaram said, “it will be a dream come true for us.”

To view the live stream of the eclipse on August 21, go to https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream.