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Shoot for the stars
Aug. 29, 2016

By Brianna Mathias
Editorial Intern

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – Throughout the years, we’ve seen technology boom. Today, scientists are still hard at work creating new software to be able to further study and understand the world around us.

Over the past two years, students from across the country have gone to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks to participate in the 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.

Leif Torgerson, a Dassel-Cokato High School graduate, was accepted into this program where he studied, and helped develop a program related to remote sensing machine learning.

This intensive project allows students to learn how to research and develop software that may one day fly on the OpenOrbiter CubeSat, which will be launched into Earth’s orbit later this year.

Self-educated

“Ever since I was fairly young, I enjoyed computers, and I wanted to know how they worked,” Torgerson said. “That was a huge driving factor for me.”

Since there were no classes offered in high school that really coincided with his interests, Torgerson said he was mainly self-taught.

“I played a lot of computer games, so I figured out a lot about computers by myself,” he said. “I learned how to de-bug my computer when there were problems, so that really helped me start.”

Practice makes perfect

Torgerson explained that going into his freshman year of college was a little difficult.

“Having just learned everything for myself made my first year of college a little interesting,” Torgerson said. “But after a while, it all started to get easier.”

A similar experience happened with the program, according to Torgerson.

“I had to learn all new software,” Torgerson said. “There were different tools I had to use. A lot of it was unpredictable, and much of what we do is not hard-coded. It became easier over time, but I still face some challenges.”

This program has taught him a lot, and has given him experience to help him keep moving forward in his education and career goals.

“I got to learn more about a type of coding data of multiple layers with this,” he said. “I’ve worked with that before, but this time, it’s on a much larger scale.”

Biological benefits

Throughout the 10-week program, Torgerson helped develop a software that takes aerial photos of the Earth and tells the percentage of each kind of terrain in a certain area. For example: it would snap a photo near a pond and read 30 percent grass, 10 percent mud, and 60 percent water.

“It will help find points of interest for biological studies,” Torgerson said.

As for the future . . .

Already in a graduate program, Torgerson said he has been studying robotics and machine learning for some time. Eventually, he would like to end up working for NASA, or any other type of job that would take skill sets such as his.

After having been a kid who dreamed of one day holding a science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) career, and is now an adult, so close to achieving that dream, Torgerson has some advice for youth with goals such as his.

“Try to get an early start,” Torgerson said. “There are a lot of good games online that will teach you coding or other things. There are a lot of good online tutorials to teach you things you might not be able to learn in school.

“If you have a strong start, you’ll be able to do well in college, and later on. Get started as soon as possible.”

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