Ten on Tech: Spotlight on Christopher Sanderson

An interview with the consultant, IEEE senior member, and active volunteer

5 min read
Photo of IEEE Senior Member Christopher Sanderson
Ruven Rivera of Headshots PRO

Photo of IEEE Senior Member Christopher Sanderson Photo: Ruven Rivera of Headshots PRO

THE INSTITUTEIEEE Senior Member Christopher Sanderson has worked and consulted with companies such as Schneider Electric, formerly Square D, General Electric, and Siemens. He is also a U.S. Army veteran. Today, he is an account manager for HV Sales Inc., which provides marketing services to manufacturers of electrical equipment.  

Sanderson is an IEEE Eta Kappa Nu Honor Society member. He is currently serving as the IEEE Region 5 South Area chair and IEEE Houston Section vice chair. Sanderson is the 2019 recipient of the IEEE Region 5 Jim Leonard Outstanding Member Award.

What are you currently reading?

Black Pioneers of Science and Invention by Louis Haber. This is an informative and enjoyable read and a perceptive account of the lives of 14 gifted innovators who have played important roles in scientific and industrial progress. All of the profiled individuals were either unknown or had been put in the halls of obscurity. The achievements of Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, Granville T. Woods, and others have made tasks easier, saved countless lives, and in many cases, altered the course of history.

It's important for me to share these and other inventions that have contributed to humanity with my kids and students at community schools, were I talk about science, technology, engineering, and math and IEEE.

What invention has most inspired you?

Otis Boykin’s artificial heart pacemaker control unit. During the 1980s, when I was a kid, there was a lot of news about the artificial heart and how it helped prolong the life of patients whose hearts were failing. I was surprised to learn about the inventor, whose key invention was a control unit for the artificial cardiac pacemaker. He died of heart failure in 1982. As a kid, I thought how he died was another weird fact, but now I see his entire body of work as inspirational. I learned that he had more than 25 patents, and his inventions not only helped prolong life but also contributed to other consumer and military applications.     

What recent movies have you enjoyed the most?

Black Panther. To see one of my favorite comic book characters come to life on the big screen was reflective and inspirational. To see its success at the box office was surprising. I only wish I would have kept some of my old Black Panther comic books.

The technologies developed in Wakanda, the fictional country Black Panther is from, and the dilemma its citizens were facing of whether the technology should be shared with the rest of the world reminded me of IEEE’s motto, Advancing Technology for Humanity. For me, the situation in Black Panther parallels some of the challenges of today where technology can be used for both good and evil, depending on who is using it.

What about current technology worries you?

There are two areas of technology that worry me: the lack of U.S. privacy laws compared to those from the European General Data Protection Regulation, and artificial intelligence (AI). I recently participated in the IEEE-USA 2019 Congressional Visit Day (CVD) centered on science, engineering and technology (SET). The objective of CVD SET is to raise awareness of the long-term importance of science, engineering, and technology to the nation through face-to-face meetings with members of Congress, congressional staff, key administration officials, and other decision-makers.

One of the policy concerns shared by the delegates was centered around protecting the digital privacy rights of American citizens and the importance of sensible AI technology. These are challenging and evolving policy concerns that Congress, companies, and citizens of the United States have to educate ourselves about, not only to understand but to also realize the dangers AI can cause to our fundamental beliefs of democracy.  

What in recent years has surprised you the most about technology?

The pace of technology disruption and the lack or limited laws to manage it. During my 2019 CVD, I was pleased to learn that IEEE is viewed as a trusted and respected organization on Capitol Hill. Many of our IEEE subject matter experts are available to help Congress make informed and sensible policies and laws.  

What was the best advice anyone has given you?

“If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem,” a famous quote by Eldridge Cleaver, a writer and political activist. I’ve tried to live my life being the solution and not part of the problem.

This is the motto and advice I give to our current and future engineering community. You can choose to be part of the problem or the solution to it. I chose to be the latter.

How many unread emails are in your inbox?

1,200 junk mail or job alert notices. It’s unfortunate that you have to join a mailing list just to read or download an interesting article or view a picture. I only wish that the job alerts would lead to that ultimate dream job. I’m not sure how much credence I can give to some of the alerts, but it’s interesting to see what positions are available and the qualifications they are looking for. 

What has been or is your favorite equation or concept in engineering, and why?

My favorite Greek letter would be Αα (Alpha), in English, the noun “alpha” is used as a synonym for “beginning,” or “first (in a series), reflecting its Greek roots.

My favorite equation would be a normal distribution equation used by fellow Six Sigma practitioners and statisticians alike. In probability theory, a normal (or Gaussian or Gauss or Laplace–Gauss) distribution is a common continuous probability distribution. Normal distributions are important in statistics and are often used in the natural and social sciences to represent real-valued random variables whose distributions are not known.

In layman’s terms, does your data represent a normal distribution curve that can be improved or is there too much variability in your data and your process is not stable. Nothing can be improved upon unless it’s stable and you’re able to understand what might be influencing the results.

What has been an important life lesson for you? 

I’ve learned how important mentoring the next generation of engineers is. At this time in my life I want to guide students by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned along my journey. I reflect back on the beginning of my engineering career and remember those mentors who guided me through some of the best and most challenging moments.

What should IEEE be (more) involved in?  

IEEE needs to be a professional and humanitarian organization at the local community level. This could mean different things depending on the community. Some examples of how IEEE could get involved are:

  • Creating IEEE technology badges for Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA
  • Writing career development certification programs (for example, engineer in training, professional engineer, and the National Electrical Code.) with local subject matter experts facilitating the online program
  • Look into offering dual memberships with other engineering societies such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the  Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
  • Offering formal mentor/mentee online and in-person programs. The program would have some measurable mentor/mentee goals and results that would lead to awarding IEEE reward points and badges.   

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Can This DIY Rocket Program Send an Astronaut to Space?

Copenhagen Suborbitals is crowdfunding its crewed rocket

15 min read
Vertical
Five people stand in front of two tall rockets. Some of the people are wearing space suits and holding helmets, others are holding welding equipment.

Copenhagen Suborbitals volunteers are building a crewed rocket on nights and weekends. The team includes [from left] Mads Stenfatt, Martin Hedegaard Petersen, Jørgen Skyt, Carsten Olsen, and Anna Olsen.

Mads Stenfatt
Red

It was one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen: our homemade rocket floating down from the sky, slowed by a white-and-orange parachute that I had worked on during many nights at the dining room table. The 6.7-meter-tall Nexø II rocket was powered by a bipropellant engine designed and constructed by the Copenhagen Suborbitals team. The engine mixed ethanol and liquid oxygen together to produce a thrust of 5 kilonewtons, and the rocket soared to a height of 6,500 meters. Even more important, it came back down in one piece.

That successful mission in August 2018 was a huge step toward our goal of sending an amateur astronaut to the edge of space aboard one of our DIY rockets. We're now building the Spica rocket to fulfill that mission, and we hope to launch a crewed rocket about 10 years from now.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is the world's only crowdsourced crewed spaceflight program, funded to the tune of almost US $100,000 per year by hundreds of generous donors around the world. Our project is staffed by a motley crew of volunteers who have a wide variety of day jobs. We have plenty of engineers, as well as people like me, a pricing manager with a skydiving hobby. I'm also one of three candidates for the astronaut position.

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