Interns adapt and achieve with IRIS – A BIRST Project

Interns adapt and achieve with IRIS – A BIRST Project
By Kaitlin Engelbert 08/25/2020
collage of interns and mentors surrounding IRIS logoFor more than ten years, the Ball Intern Remote Sensing Team (BIRST) payload project has been an annual tradition for our summer interns. In the past, BIRST has complimented the Intern Program by offering a fun and engaging, after-hours platform for additional experience, networking and enrichment opportunities. Though the format looked different this year, the BIRST leadership team wanted to emulate those same benefits for the interns, regardless of where our interns were working.

As a result, the Interns Remotely Investigating Science (IRIS) project blossomed. Adjacent to the typical BIRST payload project, IRIS was designed to engage the interns in critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and teamwork -- all from the comfort of their own home.

This year’s IRIS project presented our Ball Aerospace interns with some of the world’s biggest problems and asked them to collaborate on solutions while keeping in mind the financial, technical and other aspects of the issue. The problems included space debris mitigation, plastic in the oceans, saving the bees and topics the interns developed on their own.

 “In our classic Ball can-do attitude, the BIRST team developed a creative and innovative concept to keep the BIRST program moving forward this summer,” said Mike Gazarik, vice president of Engineering, Ball Aerospace. “The team broke down the best aspects of the BIRST program and developed a new approach that met those same aspects. Amazing creativity coupled with rigorous system engineering yielded creative solutions to some of our society’s most challenging problems and an awesome experience for our interns this summer.”

The interns worked incredibly hard over the past month to develop solutions to showcase at the IRIS Expo. Throughout the remote three-day event, 18 teams presented their solutions. Though interns had common topics, no solution was the same.


Below are some of the many solutions the interns developed:

Space Debris Solutions:

  • A ‘LEOfoam’ cannon designed to change the mass of the debris in low earth orbit, causing the debris to de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere
  • Ground and space-based laser systems to help move and de-orbit debris
  • Constellation of lens satellites that focus light photos to “push” away the debris

Plastic in the Ocean Solutions:

  • Ocean Roomba – robots that travel the ocean detecting and collecting microplastic concentrations
  • Biodegradable fishing nets that enable animals to break free should they accidentally get tangled up in lost nets
  • Bubble net – capture plastic before it reaches open water

Save the Honeybees Solutions:

  • A website with a data driven “heat map” highlighting risk factors for bee decline and essential areas for bee populations
  • A BeeGate device for hives to keep out the murder hornets

One team even designed a software program to help teach Zoom to seniors in nursing homes and those in developing countries so they could stay connected.

“The 2020 interns impressed everyone with their hard work, creativity, and willingness to take on a new challenge” said Glenda Alvarenga, BIRST program manager. “They made the best of the situation by making the projects their own. I couldn’t be happier with how this year’s projects turned out.”

Overall, the BIRST leadership team adapted to this year’s virtual experience developing a truly unique and engaging program for the Ball 2020 interns through the IRIS project. Thank you to all the IRIS interns, mentors, support personnel, and BIRST leadership team for showing what it truly means to Go Beyond®.

IRIS is specifically designed as a unique experience for Ball’s 2020 interns. The normal BIRST payload project will resume in Summer 2021 (pending the status of COVID-19).
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