Bradley Observatory Hams it Up

Friday, December 11, 2015

by Steve Vogel

Amateur radio (or “ham” radio) has been called the first “social network,” bringing people, electronics and communication together for over 100 years. Ham radio can communicate across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.

Some ham radio operators (hams) like to build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using amateur radio digital communications opportunities. Others compete in "DX contests," where the object is to see how many hams in distant locations they can contact. Mostly ham radio is used to form friendships over the air or for participation in one of more than 2000 amateur radio clubs throughout the country. There are over 700,000 radio amateurs in the United States and over 2,000,000 worldwide.

Communication with other hams can be accomplished via voice and a microphone by interfacing a radio with a computer or tablet to send data, text or images, or even Morse code, which remains incredibly popular. There are usually astronauts who are hams aboard the International Space Station, and one can communicate with other hams through one of several satellites in space, or bounce signals off the moon and back to Earth.

RadioAgnes Scott College has recently added a new dimension to further distinguish itself among women’s colleges. The college has installed what is believed to be the first amateur radio station on a women’s college campus anywhere in the U.S. The station is located at the highest point on campus, Bradley Observatory, and was established with the enthusiastic support of Agnes Scott faculty in the Department of Physics & Astronomy: Nicole Ackerman, Amy J. Lovell and Christopher De Pree, director of the Bradley Observatory.

As part of the process, Professors Lovell and Ackerman obtained amateur radio licenses, and Ackerman also attended a Teacher’s Institute on Wireless Technology conducted and sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio, to learn more about the technology and get ideas for classroom projects.

“Wireless communication technology may be in the pockets of all of our students, but many don’t stop to think about how it works and the network that is necessary to support it. Not only does the station provide an opportunity to talk about atmospheric science and the propagation of electromagnetic waves, but we can also tie it to the fundamental techniques of data encoding and transfer,” says Ackerman.

Equipment, technical assistance, and monetary support for the station came from the Atlanta Radio Club, the Alford Memorial Radio Club and several individual ham operators, with the college providing in-kind support.

Initial plans for the station include integrating it into the college’s student life and learning, through use by international students, public health majors, the Physics & Astronomy department, and general recreational opportunities.

Contact Christopher De Pree at for more information.

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.