The plastic-bladed hexacopter hovers in the air. A remote control signals it to turn, and it obeys, tilting and gliding until it reaches a stopping point. Then it straightens and hovers again, steady as a hummingbird.
"The physics involved in this thing are just phenomenal," said Lynn Ackler, a Southern Oregon University assistant professor who teaches a computer forensics class.
The students in Ackler's class recently launched the 18-inch diameter machine — equipped with a GoPro camera and GPS unit — during a simulated counterterrorism crime scene investigation in which two suitcases containing laptop computers were detonated. The hexacopter hovered above, recording surveillance, and the information was later used to complete an assignment, he said.
• To view a schedule of SOAR events, go to www.mailtribune.com/soar.
• To view an alphabetical listing of presenters, go to www.sou.edu/soar/schedule/participants.html.
Oregon State Police officials who assisted at the simulation were impressed. The hexacopter allows law enforcement to get a close look at a crime scene — especially one involving explosives — without risking lives, Ackler said.
The hexacopter will be just one of nearly 800 exhibits showcased during the university's Southern Oregon Arts and Research, a weeklong event that showcases the range of research, art, and performances by students and faculty. It'll be demonstrated during opening ceremonies at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Stevenson Union courtyard.
This year's SOAR, which begins today and runs through Friday, will be the largest in its six-year history, officials said.
"We literally take over all the rooms in the student union and reserve all the rooms in the library," said Deborah Hofer, a grant administrator at SOU and a chairwoman of SOAR.
SOAR Chairman Paul Adalian, dean of Hannon Library, said there are about 110 more exhibits than last year, and this year's offering dwarfs its first year, when there were 150.
It begins tonight with a talk by Richard Hutton, the host of PBS's "This Emotional Life."
SOAR presentations give many students their first chance to speak in a professional setting, said Oneal Latimore, a fourth-year student who will give three talks.
"This is our first opportunity to present at a professional-type conference," Latimore said. "I think that's a benefit in that when we go to a conference for the first time we'll have more of a footing."
In one of his talks, Latimore will present his capstone research paper, "Dynamic Uses of Urban Green Spaces," which examines practices of five local businesses — Noble Coffee Roasters, Standing Stone Brewing Co., Upper Five Vineyard, Jefferson Nature Center and the SOU Farm — that are environmentally and socially responsible while still being successful financially, he said.
Latimore said it was an eye-opening experience to see food being grown in a garden or farm and then landing on his plate.
"I grew up in West Philly, so I had never been a part of a culture that grew their own food," he said.
Poster presentations, in which students stand beside research they've detailed on laminated posters and answer questions, is a mainstay of the week.
"It's gotten so big that we have to do it in two days now," Adalian said.
Graduate student Ryan King will present his master's thesis in which he designed elementary, high school and college curriculum with beekeeping as its foundation. It's called "Beekeeping as Pedagogy: The Ashland Apiary Project." He said the curriculum allows for science, math, social studies, language arts and carpentry to be taught, he said.
"It's all just using beekeeping as a springboard," said King, who is finishing a master's degree in environmental education.
One-third of the food supply is dependent upon bee pollination, and since 2000, there's been a drastic collapse of bee colonies, King said. He hopes the curriculum can be implemented in local schools.
"It's something I'm very proud of, and hopefully it will have some merit in the field of environmental education," King said.
Dotty Ormes, a librarian who specializes in Shakespearean studies, will perform three folk tales — from Italy, India and Chile. A professional storyteller, Ormes said these tales were inspiration for Shakespeare when he wrote the play "Cymbeline."
"The original tales had been in the oral tradition," she said. "He transferred it into his theater."
Officials have called SOAR the signature event for the school, and faculty have become more enthused throughout the event's lifespan.
"It gives both the faculty and students a chance to share their passion that they might not be able to share at another time," Ormes said.
At SOU, those passions range widely, Hofer said.
"We've got students doing it all," she said.
Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.