An Environmental Sensor Network Opens Up New Worlds of Data at Fairfield Osborn Preserve

sensor_network.jpgWhen Albert Martos Maldonado described the sensors currently operating at Sonoma State University's Fairfield Osborn Preserve--measuring the energy use, climate, even cell phone locations--the students in the SSU Preserve Naturalist Training Program were amazed.

Few knew how much data was being gathered and none had realized that they could use the information to support class work and independent projects. "I wish I had known more about these sensors two years ago," said Kerry Wininger, graduate student in biology and currently serving as the Preserves' Naturalist Training Teaching Associate. "I see so many applications to my graduate research on Sudden Oak Death."

The Department of Engineering Science and the SSU Preserves are creating an environmental sensor network at SSU's Fairfield Osborn Preserve. The network, being built by students, is a motivational teaching tool that is teaching students across campus about how IT technology can help them in their own studies. When fully developed, the sensor network is anticipated to benefit over 1,200 students each year.

"The goal of the educational Osborn Sensor Network is to transform the learning experience by moving learning outside of the classroom and connecting it to real life," says Farahmand, Associate Faculty in the Department of Engineering Science and the lead on the project. "It is only then that math is no longer scary, science is exciting, engineering is popular, and technology makes sense."

The sensor network initially began as a series of senior capstone and Master's projects by students in Engineering Science. Working with Farahmand, students built a weather station, solar bank monitoring system, and designed wireless network topography.

The project expanded to involve students from other institutions such as Petaluma High School and Santa Rosa Junior College. A 2014 CSU Campus as a Living Lab Grant ( brought three students from the Junior College to work with Engineering Science Seniors on the sensor network projects.

Maldonado, who was employed to work on the network, is gaining professional experience in technology and teaching others about the network. "Working on this project is giving me hands-on experience working with technologies that will make me more desirable by employers," said Maldonado. "And besides, it's fun to go the Preserve and work outside."

The Osborn sensor network is one of the first educational sensor networks to be built specifically to give students experience in design and construction and serve a resource for coursework and independent projects.

"Our goal is IT literacy for students in all disciplines," says Farahmand. "These are skills that will last a lifetime."

"The Osborn sensor network creates a unique opportunity to create cross-disciplinary teams of students that can work together to learn about the environment," said SSU Preserves Director Claudia Luke. "Students will end up thinking out of the box, talking about ideas outside of their academic disciplines, and learning teamwork."

This summer, with funding from the Steve Norwick Memorial Fund, Daphne Smith, WATERS Collaborative, IRA program, and a CSU Campus as a Living Lab program, students are expanding the network by installing a reliable telecommunication "backbone" that will collect data from weather stations, cameras and other sensors and transmit the information back to computers on campus.

To design the network, Farahmand and Preserve Director Claudia Luke collaborated with staff at other reserves in California: the UC Davis Quail Ridge Reserve and UC Berkeley Angelo Coast Range Reserve.

"Our goal is IT literacy for students in all disciplines," says Farahmand. "These are skills that will last a lifetime."

For more information about the sensor network see:
"Developing Environmental Sensor Networks at the SSU Preserves: Opportunities for Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration" Dr. Claudia Luke, Director SSU Preserves; SSU Engineering Science Lecture Series, Thursday, October 17, 2013.

ABOVE, Albert Martos Maldonado works with Professor Farid Farahmand to calibrate an environmental sensor at the Fairfield Osborn Preserve. (Photo by Sandy Destiny)

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