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Elizabeth "Farrell" Helbling '12

Ph.D. candidate, Harvard University

Elizabeth Farrell Helbling

Studying engineering in the Picker Engineering Program was an experience that I could not have found anywhere else: I developed a sensor package for meteorological balloons, studied abroad in Scotland, performed research at the Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University Cambridge, and sat everyday in classrooms where all my peers were women.

I was originally attracted to the Picker Engineering program because of the project-based courses; connecting the technical material from my textbooks to "real life" situations greatly improved my understanding. From designing, building, and programming a solar home in my first engineering class, to standing in the river in thigh-high waders for my fluids class, to designing and testing my own fuel cell for use on a small UAV, the Picker Engineering Program made learning engineering an exciting experience for me.

One of my favorite experiences in the Picker Engineering Program was the opportunity to work closely with my adviser, Professor Paul Voss, on his meteorological balloons. As a rising junior, I redesigned the electrical platform and added a number of sensors to monitor the meteorological conditions in the Arctic. At the end of the summer, I was able to travel with Professor Voss to Ny-Alesund, Svalbard to help control the balloon flights. We traveled to the northernmost settlement in the world, launched and tracked the balloons, and collaborated with researchers in both Norway and Cambridge. My experience emphasized the global scale of many of our current challenges and gave my engineering education greater perspective.

Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate in engineering sciences with an emphasis on electrical engineering and robotics at the Microrobotics Lab at Harvard University. I work on the Harvard Robobee project, a centimeter-scale robot inspired by honeybees. Specifically, I am developing a sensor package that allows the robot to determine its position and orientation in flight. The Robobee requires a diverse team of researchers from multiple engineering backgrounds to work on the many facets of this project. My Smith education emphasized the importance of working effectively in a collaborative environment, and helped prepare me for long-term research in this environment.

The Picker Engineering Program gave me the technical knowledge necessary to study engineering at the graduate level, but also gave me the ability to perform long-term independent research, the capacity to communicate my work in written and oral presentations, and the confidence to do all of these things in a field with very few women.