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Nikolai Ramalingam

PLTW Engineering Student








601 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

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Hello! I'm Nikolai

I am a senior at Santa Monica High School and this is my fourth year in the PLTW course at this school. Inside of school, my favorite classes are Engineering and Physics because I am interested by the many world applications of these subjects. In my free time, I love playing jazz on my alto saxophone, and watching detective TV shows.



  • To become a leader in PLTW this year as president and help my group win the JPL competition

  • To gain group experience researching, designing, and developing a solution to a real world problem

  • My specific interests in Engineering are to make a difference on the world by developing new technology or products to improve society

Completed Projects

Individual Projects


Works In Progress

Update 1: Our first idea for the JPL project was to create an air tube with our air compressor and send the ping pong ball through PVC pipes. This idea failed because it turned out that our air compressor (Craftsman) was not "U-Stamped" and is not allowed at the competition. This forced us to go back to the drawing board and create a new design. So far, we've decided on making a catapult to launch the ping pong balls into the jar and we're in the prototype stage. We need to run many tests before the competition to make sure we have the right angle and force.

Update 2: During these past two weeks, our group came up with our final design for our project. The trebuchet will include a large wheel to provide torque for the launch arm. In addition, we have a full blueprint with dimensions so that we know exactly how to build the trebuchet. I specifically have worked on the design and build process of the wheel and have also cut the 2 by 4s for the support arms. We've tested the trebuchet dimensions on This is the link to our group's projected timeline 


JPL Final Poster

JPL Individual Reflection

Engineering Ethics

Ethics Case Study Powerpoint 

Capstone Project

Problem Justification Submission

Element A,B, C  Doc

Product Brochure

Market Research Survey

Mentor Contact Log




Blog #1

I started my summer vacation at SMC where I took a 6-week course on Political Science and Microeconomics. Once I finished that course, I went on a college tour to the Midwest and East coast. It was really interesting to learn about the Engineering colleges I visited like UMichigan and Duke, but the touring also came with a relaxing beach vacation to the outer banks in North Carolina. I ended my summer with a two-week Marching band camp where I met the new members of my section and connected with friends. 

I'm most excited about working on ideas for the JPL project and the freedom that comes with EDD.

Outside of Engineering, I'm most excited to be done with college applications and have a relaxing second semester. 

Blog #2

This week, Ms. Snyder assigned an individual research presentation to the class where we could choose any engineering invention to research. However, Ms. Snyder gave us one constraint - to choose a simple invention that still made a lasting impact on society. Her hope for this project was to show the class how simplicity is often the best route to solving a problem and she wanted us to that concept to our JPL projects. I researched the invention of the rock in ancient Mesopotamia and aside from learning the history of the rock, I got the idea that maybe our air propulsion concept was a little too tricky to pull off.

Speaking of our air propulsion concept, we basically decided to scrap that whole idea. Our air compressor didn't have an ASME U-Stamp so we wouldn't have been able to use it at JPL. We went back to the drawing board and discussed as a group some other ideas. We decided on building a trebuchet to launch the ping pong balls into a PVC tube which would funnel the balls into the mason jar. We are in the rough prototyping stages right now as we have only been able to launch the ball a couple feet.

In the coming weeks, we will spend lots of time tweaking our design and experimenting with the right launch angle and speed. Some problems that we could encounter are not being able to launch our ball far enough, and being inconsistent with our accuracy. 

Outside of engineering, I've been focusing on work from other classes like AP Physics E & M and Stats. In addition, I've been spending time getting my college essays ready for early round of admissions. Things aren't too stressful yet, and I'm hoping that I can stay focused for the rest of the semester.

Blog #3

A team of scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, are testing a 3D-printed prototype of a mini transformational robot that can explore new worlds. The team working on the project is called "Shapeshifter" and they have developed these small drones to travel in a group of up to 12 to roll, fly, float, and swim on planets. The flying amphibious robot is part of the early-stage research program NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), which offers several phases of funding to visionary concepts. JPL Principal Investigator Ali Agha envisions Shapeshifter as a mission to Saturn's moon Titan, the only other world in the solar system known to have liquid in the form of methane lakes, rivers and seas on its surface. Agha's vision includes a lander like the European Space Agency's Huygens Probe, which touched down on Titan after being deployed via parachute by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. This lander would be an energy source for the minirobots and the bots would be able to transport the lander. The Shapeshifter team will submit their concept to NIAC's Phase II selection process in 2020. But even if selected, it could be many more years until Shapeshifter visits a moon like Titan. 

In order to make these minibot prototypes, JPL staff had to spend lots of time researching and creating this concept. NASA's Cassini mission flew by Titan over one hundred times, mapping its surface for future missions. What Cassini discovered is a world surprisingly similar to Earth but with key differences: Titan's cold rivers, lakes and rain are made of liquid methane and ethane (both gases on Earth). The moon's hazy atmosphere could also conceal caves - or even icy volcanoes that spew ammonia or water instead of magma. With this research, the Shapeshifter team constructed the minibot with amphibian capabilities.


 The Shapeshifter project shows us that there are several possibilities for future space travel in progress.  NASA is hard at work developing projects with the NIAC and minibots are just one possibility. This is very exciting for the future of humans because exploring space could become very vital if we ever have to evacuate the Earth. In addition, the Shapeshifter project could help answer one of the most important questions - Does life exist on other planets?

Finally, this article identifies with our JPL project since it shows progressions being made by experts so as to tackle a tough assignment. Despite the fact we aren't as cohesive as the Shapeshifter team, we are gaining ground each day. This incorporates slicing wood to shape and sourcing more materials and instruments. We've been significantly more fruitful over this previous week than we have during others and our task is at last beginning to come to fruition. Ideally, since we have a greater amount of the materials and apparatuses important to begin development of the trebuchet, we will have the option to start assembling the pieces in the coming week.

Blog #4


The college process for me has almost come to an end and with that I've reflected on things that would have been helpful to know before I started this process. Firstly, the whole process can be much less stressful if you start the process early. This doesn't mean to start writing essays as a junior but just to start filling out the busy work of each application and getting your thoughts organized on what you could write your personal statement about. Another really important piece of advice for incoming seniors is to make sure that you would be excited about every college on your list, and if you couldn't see yourself going there (even if it's a safety), don't bother applying. This is important because instead you should look for colleges that are a good fit with who you are and what you're looking for. The thing that excites me most about going to college is the great education that I'll get along with the chance to meet new people from around the world. Finally, I'll summarize my college app process with this GIF 

Blog #1 Sem. 2

I am most excited to enjoying my last moments in high school by having fun with my friends, continuing to learn interesting things, and enjoying life. So far, my group is deciding which problem we want to pursue and an obstacle is that we're not all in accordance for which problem we want to tackle. I think once we choose a problem, a issue that we could face is time management because of how complex our chosen solution is. 

The difference between products that are made for profit and products that are made to benefit others is that benefiting products have a mission that focuses on activities that benefit society and whose goal is not primarily for money. 

Pros of making a product for profit are money for the owners and investment possibility in improving the product. Cons of making a product for profit is that you have the idea of gaining money as a distraction to the cause of making a good product that will improve society. An example of a product for profit is the Slinky. 

Pros of making a product not for profit are the product is perceived in a better light by the public, grant funding, and tax advantages over profit products. Cons of making a product not profit are that they rely heavily on fundraising and private donations to provide services and resources, harder marketing battle to get funds because they must convince people to donate, and they typically must report how they spend funds to their donors. An example of a product not profit is the electricity that Edison sells to SoCal residents. 

Blog #2 Sem. 2

The biggest challenge with my capstone project so far has been to determine a good issue to solve in the world. This is the step that our group has spent the most time on and we went through a large research phase to determine which issue to pick. I am most proud of our Capstone Element document because of how organized and professional the doc is. 

So far, I've learned that it's very important to get project ideas from multiple sources because that promotes multiple perspectives and allows you to see the problem in a different way.

Blog #3 Sem. 2

I hope to pursue a degree in computer engineering. Computer engineering appeals to me for its wide range of applications. It would let me be creative and use math principles to invent something that could change the world. I’m inspired by my dad, a mechanical engineer who applied computer science skills to create a finite element analysis tool, Solidworks Simulation, used by many engineers. I would like to specialize in machine intelligence because AI is a powerful tool and has numerous research opportunities. 

I hope to obtain a job at a tech company like Google or Amazon or even work for a startup early in my career. 

Eric Schmidt is one of my inspirations in the computer engineering world. He is currently "the US Department of Defense's Defense Innovation Advisory Board. He is known for being the CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, executive chairman of Google from 2011 to 2015 and executive chairman of Alphabet Inc."(Source 1)  He got a bachelor's degree in Electrical engineering at Princeton University and got a master's degree and PhD in EECS. 

Before getting a job at Google, Schmidt held technical jobs at smaller companies such as Byzromotti Design, Bell Labs, Zilog, and Palo Alto Research Center. Although these jobs were with lesser known companies, Schmidt did impressive work and eventually caught the attention of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In 2001, he joined the board of directors and became Google's CEO in August. 

I would describe Schmidt as a persistent, curious, intelligent, driven, and successful. I chose to research Schmidt because of his impactful career in the tech world. 

However, I didn't like how he used Google artificial distinctions to avoid taxes in the U.K  and how he visited North Korea and is letting the North Korean government use Android OS.

Source 1:

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