Sensors and Smith Convocation: Professor Dorsey’s Work in the Field

Professor Kristen Dorsey at work.

Photo by Carolyn Brown ’16 | Professor Kristen Dorsey at work.


Hira Humayun ’17
Features Editor

Kristen Dorsey, a professor in Smith’s engineering department, specializes in sensors and how they help us read the surrounding environment. She decided to measure the decibel level at Convocation earlier this semester and found it to be 105 decibels – louder than a jet take-off at 305 meters – just at the back of John M. Greene Hall.

Dorsey has a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2013, before which she received her bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. She then worked with First Robotics, an organization that helps start and support high school and middle school robotics teams in Boston public schools. She joined the Smith community in July.

“An engineer’s job is not done when she makes the sensor and collects data with it,” Dorsey said.  “The sort of things you can do with the data, such as make life better and more interesting or identify and solve community problems, requires an interdisciplinary approach. One of the reasons I’m so excited to teach and do research at Smith is that I can interact with faculty from a variety of academic backgrounds.”

Dorsey’s research is focused on the creation and design of micro-scale sensors, a wide range of sensors that include accelerometers in smartphones, tire pressure sensors in cars and air quality sensors.

“The research I like to do – rather than focusing on one sensor type – is to look at a couple of different sensors and figure out how we can, as a scientific and engineering community, make them better and less expensive or have less environmental impact,” Dorsey said.

Regarding sensors in smartphones, Dorsey said, “This is something that I think is really exciting and something that commercial technology has enabled in the last couple of years.”

She said she did not bring any special sensors to convocation – nor did she go there with the intention of measuring the decibel level – she simply used her phone, which has sensors embedded in it.

“[There is] a light sensor, an accelerometer, a rotation sensor, a microphone or sound sensor. Just in this small package that you carry with you, you can measure a lot of really cool stuff about your world,” she said. “And when you combine it with other things – like a better external sound sensor, a more sensitive microphone … or an accelerometer that you might stick on someone’s seat to hear how loud people are stomping their feet or jumping up and down – you can really get some interesting data and draw some interesting conclusions with that.”

Dorsey said that for Convocation next year, she would like to bring some more specialized external sensors, such as accelerometers and more refined microphones.

“That’s my hope for research: that we can integrate even more sensors into a package like this so we can find even more out at a quick notice,” she explained. “I thought it was really interesting to be able to tell all of this stuff that we can’t necessarily tell with our five senses.”

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