The following article appeared in Vermont Business Magazine on February 29, 2020
It doesn’t take long for Brogan Morton to capture the attention of middle school students. After an energetic introduction, he dims the lights as images of flying bats appear on a screen behind him, while he makes a case for why the world’s only flying mammal is worth saving.
A mechanical engineer and founder of Wildlife Imaging Systems LLC – a leading provider of advanced machine vision solutions to further the conservation of wildlife – Morton speaks from experience. As senior product manager at NRG Systems in Hinesburg, VT, he guided the successful development and commercialization of their Bat Deterrent System using ultrasound to reduce bat mortality near wind turbines.
Morton is sharing his passion for STEM with CFES Brilliant Pathways Scholars in Vermont, New York and across the North Country by offering examples from the wind and solar industries, and providing hands-on demonstrations of engineering and scientific principles. His STEM outreach efforts are part of a $12 million federal GEAR UP grant landed by CFES to help over 2,000 students in the Adirondacks become college and career ready.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Brogan donate his time and expertise to expose students to an area of STEM they may not have ever considered,” said CFES President Rick Dalton. “His passion is infectious and has captured the imagination of the students across the North Country.”
A recent trip to Moriah Central School where students peppered Morton with the following questions is a case in point: “Do bats suck blood from live stock?” “Are they totally nocturnal?” “Can they see in the dark?” Morton had all the answers and then some, including the fact that bats only have one pup at a time, making it hard for their populations to recover after the devastation cause by White Nose Syndrome, a disease that affects hibernating bats caused by an invasive fungus. This make it incredibly difficult to get them off the endangered species list.
With his audience fully engaged, Morton adeptly pivots to more STEM-related topics. He ties the fact that bats can ‘see’ in the dark by making noises and waiting for sound waves to bounce back to know if they can fly safely forward, with his work at NRG.
“I learned a lot from his presentation,” said Moriah student Addison Nephew. “The information about bats made it really interesting and lead into the science part and how the technology worked. I hope he comes back.”
Morton also hopes to debunk the myth of an engineer sitting behind a desk all day. He gives examples from his fieldwork over the years at NRG, developing aerospace systems at a small startup, and as technical lead for several Department of Energy and Department of Defense Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) projects.
“I liked the outdoors and didn’t want to be in an office all the time,” says Morton, who grew up in rural New Hampshire. “But I had no idea what a mechanical engineer did until I visited my high school guidance counselor who said, ‘they build stuff.’ Well, I liked to build stuff, so that’s literally how my path to becoming an engineer started. I want to show students examples of folks like me who pursued an engineering career that is fun and exciting.”
Moriah science teacher Stephen Schaefer said students responded to Morton’s enthusiasm and the fact that he worked in the field he was talking about.
“I really liked the variety of the STEM careers he shared and the way he introduced the scientific method to it in a simple way,” said Schaefer. “Kids have this vision of STEM as someone working with chemicals and beakers. He changed that concept by asking students a simple question: how would you test to see if these bats are repelled by sound? It made them really think of all the possibilities that a job like that would entail.