Sriram Elango is no ordinary high school student.
If computer software engineering was a varsity sport, the Cinnaminson High School junior would be an All-American superstar, celebrated as the Lebron James of coding. Instead, the 17-year-old teen devotes much of his free time to working in relative obscurity as an intern at the Palmyra Cove Nature Park’s Institute for Earth Observations, where he has been an instrumental contributor to the Institute’s Environmental STEM Center and model satellite program.
Known as A3Sat, the project involves building and programming CubeSats, a miniature satellite being developed by scientific researchers and space programs.
The Environmental STEM Center’s A3Sat is a 4-inch cube. It hasn’t gone to outer space, but it has traveled via drone several hundred feet above Palmyra Cove, succeeding in taking regular and infrared photos and video and recording environmental and health data, such as temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and air quality.
The data and imagery are transmitted in real-time from the A3Sat CubeSat to a desktop software app called, Ground Station. The app plots and graphs the data in a user-friendly manner.
Sriram designed the app and developed all the software and code for its use, according to John Moore the executive director of the Institute for Earth Observations.
“He wrote the Ground Station software governing how the CubeSat collects and transmits data via Wi-Fi, as well as the app’s analysis tools. He was responsible for all that software. It was all him,” Moore said, adding that the teen has contributed more than 350 volunteer hours on the project since he started on it in February last year.
“He was the one who found me. He called and said he was looking for a place to do STEM research,” Moore said. “We put him on the team right away.”
“I wanted to explore more fields and research areas that I could work on,” Sriram said. “In doing so, I was able to begin doing research at the Institute for Earth Observations, which was developing a cube satellite as a model for schools across New Jersey to help them become more engaged with high-level technology. My goal was to aid in the development of the satellite and elevate it to an even higher level.”
‘Changing our world for the better’
The Ground Station app was selected as the winner of the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District’s Congressional App Challenge, and Sriram is scheduled to demonstrate it to the nation later this month during a virtual conference, #HouseOfCode 2022, which is considered among the most prestigious events for students in STEM.
In recognition of the honor and his extraordinary work, the Burlington County Bridge Commission hosted a reception in Sriram’s honor Thursday at the Institute of Earth Observations in Palmyra Cove. Congressman Andy Kim and the Burlington County Commissioners attended to congratulate the STEM superstar in advance of the big conference.
Burlington County Bridge Commission officials and Cinnaminson Superintendent of Schools Stephen Cappello also attended the event.
“I want to congratulate Sriram again on winning the Congressional App Challenge and for building a truly amazing app that can speak with a satellite in space and allows the app user to collect atmospheric data,” said Congressman Kim. “STEM education and encouraging kids to learn coding prepares them for the needs and jobs of the future. Technology is ever evolving as is our use of it. Giving students like Sriram the opportunity to learn and develop their tech skills is essential for their growth and education. I look forward to following Sriram as he continues inventing, creating, and changing our world for the better.”
Burlington County Commissioner Director Dan O’Connell, State Senator Troy Singleton and Bridge Commission Chairman Matt Riggins also congratulated the intern on his achievement.
“Burlington County is renown for its history, natural beauty, parks and open space, but it’s great to see coding and computer engineering in the spotlight, along with the Institute for Earth Observations,” said O’Connell. “We want to congratulate Sriram on this extraordinary accomplishment and also recognize Palmyra Cove and the Institute for providing students with this kind of next level STEM experience.”
"I am extremely proud to represent young, talented minds like Sriram," said Singleton, who represents Cinnaminson as part of the 7th Legislative District. "His intellect, innovation, technological capability, and motivation are truly inspiring. We are thankful for his contributions to the Environmental STEM Center, and congratulation him on this great recognition."
“Sriram’s kind of talent and excellence in science and tech deserves to be celebrated in the same way we recognize other great achievements in academics, athletics and the arts,” added Riggins. “We’re also incredibly proud of Palmyra Cove and the IEO’s Environmental STEM Center for the opportunities it provides to students. It’s one of the only places in the region to combine STEM education with a nature park.”
A pathway to the future
The Environmental STEM Center opened at the Nature Park in 2018 and provides a 2,000-square-foot space for interactive exhibits about science and technology.
Among the exhibits is a HoloGlobe that allows visitors to view authentic earth-observing satellite data from NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and other sources; the TopoBox, a colorful, mechanical sandbox that offers lessons about topography, geography, natural sciences, watersheds and computer science; and the Innovation lab, a virtual reality exhibit that allows students to make virtual trips to the bottom of the ocean, space and even the Apollo 11 moon landing site.
Visitors can also explore the 250-acre nature preserve. Located at the base of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, Palmyra Cove was formerly used as a dumping ground for dredge spoils but has become an “urban oasis” along the Delaware River due to its varied habitats of wetlands, woods, meadows, wild creek and river shoreline, as well as a freshwater Tidal Cove the park is named after. The park has also become a celebrated location to observe hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife.
It is jointly managed by the Burlington County Bridge Commission and Burlington County.
The STEM Center is open most weekdays from 9 AM to 4 PM. Palmyra Cove Nature Park is open daily from dawn until dusk. Admission to both the center and park is free.
Moore said he hopes Sriram can inspire more students to become interested in STEM and the programs at the park.
“We’d love for establish the Environmental STEM Center as a place where students interested in science and technology can go,” Moore said. “The CubeSat offers an authentic science and engineering experience with a purpose and pathway to the future.”
Photo 2: Cinnaminson High School Junior Sriram Elango speaks during a reception Thursday at the Institute for Earth Observations in Palmyra Cove Nature Park, where he interns in the Environmental STEM Center. The reception was held to recognize him and the selection of a computer app he designed as the winner of the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District’s Congressional App Challenge.
Photo 3: Intern Sriram Elango was a key contributor to the Institute for Earth Observations project to build miniature satellites, called CubeSats. Pictured is one of the A3Sat CubeSat’s developed at the Institute. It can attach to a drone and takes both regular and infrared photos and video and records environmental and health data, such as temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and air quality.
Photo 4: Data and imagery from the A3Sat CubeSat is transmitted in real-time to a desktop software app called, Ground Station, that Sriram designed. The app plots and graphs the data in a user-friendly manner.
Photo 5: Sriram Elango works on a CubeSat kit with another student intern at the Institute for Earth Observations.
Photo 6: Congressman Andy Kim speaks at Thursday’s reception honoring student Sriram Elango and the selection of his app as the winner of the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District’s Congressional App Challenge.
Photo 7: Burlington County Commissioner Director Dan O’Connell presented Sriram Elango with a certificate of Student Achievement and Excellence for his work at the Institute for Earth Observations at Palmyra Cove Nature Park.
Photo 8: Burlington County Commissioner Director Dan O’Connell delivers remarks at the reception honoring student intern Sriram Elango at the Institute for Earth Observations at Palmyra Cove Nature Park.
Photo 9: Congressman Andy Kim presents Sriram Elango with a certificate of recognition.
Photo 10: Sriram Elango shows Burlington County Commissioner Director Dan O’Connell how the A3Sat CubeSat is carried by a drone to take photos and measurements above the Palmyra Cove Nature Park.