Engineering Hero: Inspiring the Next Generation with Interactive Radio Kits

November 01, 2023

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Engineering Hero: Inspiring the Next Generation with Interactive Radio Kits

Welcome to the fourth installment of Engineering Heroes, sponsored by Wind River, where we take a closer look at the lives of unsung heroes in the world of engineering whose work impacts uncountable lives across the globe. See the bottom of the article for additional content on Levi Zima and our other heroes.

What were you doing on an average day when you were 7 years old? Probably not learning how to code and develop CAD projects while you waited for your dad to finish working, right?

Well, Levi Zima, an RF microwave engineer at RF Labs and recent graduate from the University of Central Florida, was doing just that. Even before the age of 7, when he was only 5, he was learning how to solder.

Born in Oregon, spending several years of childhood in Wisconsin, Levi now resides in Sorrento, Florida, a little north of Orlando.

Spending most of his time with his father David, also an RF microwave engineer, at work — he naturally, eventually would get bored and want to go home. Enter David Zima’s solution: engineering videos and tutorials to keep Levi entertained.

This may sound like a career written in the stars — Levi discovered engineering and developed skills as a child, and would therefore naturally follow in his father’s footsteps. He even works at his father’s engineering company, RF Labs. But the truth ended up being a bit more complicated. Levi didn’t actually decide he wanted to pursue a degree or career in engineering until around 2018.

For the Kids

Over the years he spent working alongside his father, Levi was able to get a ton of hands-on experience, whether it was assembling and soldering circuit boards at around age 12 or participating more in testing and running the manufacturing line — which he did around age 16 as he started becoming more interested in the electronics themselves.

Knowing that, it makes sense that Levi has had a hand in numerous projects with applications ranging from child safety around lawnmowers to COVID detection in the Navy. But, according to him, the one closest to his heart even now wasn’t one centered around safety.

In 2018, the Experimental Aircraft Association asked Levi to design a radio kit that would teach younger kids about electronics. He started with a simple crystal radio, adding a few modifications to the older design. Because the device was for children, he made sure it was packaged in a small form factor to make it easier for kids to handle and build.

The design process wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing, though. It took several months, a few redesigns, and troubleshooting to arrive at a product Levi was satisfied with. It was finished in time to take to an air show, where the children present could build it, learn about radio and electronics engineering, and even how to solder — all in about 30-45 minutes.

Levi got a lot of great feedback about that project and how it sparked the children’s interest in the inner workings of electronics, not just from parents of the kids using it and volunteers who were at the air show, but also from the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL).

“That's really what inspired me to choose the path of becoming an electrical engineer because I just saw all the good that it did, and how something that I created could help inspire the next generation of engineers,” Levi said.

After that, at the beginning of 2020, Levi decided to pursue his degree at UCF in electronics engineering.

The Mission He Chose to Accept

David Zima started his engineering company, RF Labs, shortly after Levi was born to help combat medical expenses. It’s been a family company since then, with David himself, Levi, and his older sister all working together, with a mission to design and develop products that help people and improve lives.

And Levi has held firm to that philosophy, whether by inspiring the next generation of engineers with a radio kit or working on devices that introduce innovative ways to keep people of all ages safe.

Editor's Note: For more Engineering Hero content, check out the links below.

Daire McNamara, Director and Firmware Engineer, Emdalo Technologies:

Nandini Kappiah, Senior Director of Software Engineering, Google:

Valentyn Hlukhotskyy, Senior Java Software Engineer, Euristiq:

Levi Zima, RF Microwave Engineer:

Samer Mabrouk, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology:

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