Meet Charlie Nicholson, an intern with the 2021 CREWS Undergraduate Research Internship program!

The CREWS Undergraduate Research Internship program supported ten undergraduate students from across the Montana University System during Summer 2021 (Year 3 of the project). These students worked directly with a CREWS advisor to assist with research on a particular aspect of the project, gain hands-on field and lab experience, and further explore their academic, professional, and personal interests and goals. 

CREWS Research Intern: Charlie Nicholson

Internship Advisor: Joe Shaw

Picture of Charlie Nicholson

Charlie Nicholson is a Junior at Montana State University (MSU) studying Electrical Engineering (with a possible minor in Optics and Photonics). Charlie grew up in Littleton, CO, and enjoys mountain biking in the summer, skiing in the winter, and playing drums for various musical groups he is involved with. When he is able to travel back to Colorado during the year, he especially loves playing in venues around Denver with his longest-standing band, The Keeps. 

Ever since Charlie started at MSU, he was curious about the Optics and Photonics courses. However, without a good understanding of what the field of optics entails, he was unsure if those courses would actually spark his interest. By working with Dr. Joe Shaw as a CREWS intern, Charlie was able to gain an understanding of the applications of optical engineering and the questions that optics research is attempting to answer. With the knowledge gained through his internship, he is now excited to steer himself toward the upper-level optics courses, both for his own interest in the area as well as the value of such courses given the growing importance of remote sensing and automated systems in the world. 

As a CREWS undergraduate research intern, Charlie focused on two projects over the summer. The first involved a larger group of four, including Charlie, Riley Logan, Shannon Hamp, Madison Torrey. In this project, Charlie assisted in taking hyperspectral imagery of the Judith River Basin and Upper Clark Fork River, and the team took weekly field trips to one of these two sites to image the watershed. They accomplished this by flying a drone, carrying a hyperspectral camera, directly over the river or stream. Data from the hyperspectral camera allows for more accurate algae detection so that the team can understand the bloom size, location, and algal composition throughout the bulk of the summer. For his second project, Charlie and Shannon Hamp worked to create a multispectral imager that could perform automatic algae identification for less than $1000. The eventual goal will be to produce self-sustained, waterproof boxes containing multiple cameras that work together to capture the wavelengths necessary to identify algae against other features of the benthos. These boxes will be able to be mounted to overlook the river and collect data throughout the year.

“Working individually on the multispectral imager project developed skills in many areas of my academic and professional life. Working with Raspberry Pi computers for the first time not only taught me a lot about computers, but it also developed my ability to problem solve by researching solutions to similar problems and piecing those solutions together,” said Charlie when reflecting on his CREWS internship experience. “This internship made me a better engineer, a better researcher, and a better thinker.”