MIT School of Engineering | »Meet This Year’s MathWorks Fellows: A Three-Part Series, III

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Meet This Year’s MathWorks Fellows: A Three-Part Series, III

School of Engineering 2020-21 MathWorks Fellows use MathWorks software to design space habitats, improve irrigation systems, create faster, light-focused computing technologies, and optimize underground carbon storage.

Kate S. Petersen

When the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars last February, it took with it an oxygen generation experiment called MOXIE. The instrument uses electrolysis to separate oxygen from a Martian atmosphere mainly composed of carbon dioxide. When the system is started, it can produce enough oxygen for a human to breathe for just over ten minutes.

But as part of her master’s research, recently graduated from the Department of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and currently a SpaceX mission integration engineer, Katherine (Katie) Carroll, worked on a hypothetical scaling of MOXIE. Basically, she wanted to determine “the specifications that a system would need to use this oxygen production system to support a future human mission to Mars,” she says. Oxygen generated by a large-scale MOXIE could also be used to produce propellant for the vehicle that would bring humans back to Earth.

Carroll’s Martian habitat research was funded by a MathWorks Fellowship. MathWorks is a software company founded in 1984 with the goal of providing researchers with new, more powerful computing tools. In 1985, the company sold ten copies of its first product, MATLAB, to MIT. MATLAB is a programming language that can be used to develop algorithms, analyze data, and create mathematical models. Almost forty years later, students and faculty at MIT continue to use MATLAB, and another MathWorks product called Simulink, to advance research across disciplines.

In 2019, to celebrate the decades-long partnership with MIT, MathWorks began awarding scholarships to School of Engineering graduate students who use MATLAB and Simulink in their research.

For his work on scaling MOXIE, Carroll built a system optimization algorithm in MATLAB and used Simulink to run simulations. During his masters research, Carroll also used MATLAB to model hypothetical models of human movement in a future Martian habitat called Star City. Such modeling is necessary to determine the best transport options and the layout of future stations.

“In reflection, [MATLAB] is really the software that I think gave me the confidence to say, “Yes, Katie, you can be an engineer… and solve really complex and amazing problems,” says Carroll.

Currently residing on Earth, Carroll enjoys going out to hike, hike and rock climb, or play tennis.

Rather than designing systems for other planets, Lluís Saló-Salgado, MathWorks Fellow and PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, focuses his research deep within our own.

It delves into some important details related to carbon capture and storage, a proposed climate change mitigation strategy in which carbon emissions would be captured from point sources such as coal-fired power plants, steel mills or facilities. chemicals, then injected into underground geological formations. However, it is feared that once the gas is injected, it could simply escape geological faults which are, essentially, everywhere.

“At the moment, we are at a stage with… CO2 storage, that for it to have a significant impact when it comes to reducing global CO emissions2 emissions, we have to do it on a large scale, ”says Saló-Salgado. “Each country should have projects … so it is basically impossible to ignore [geological faults]. We have to live with them.

Determine the best places to potentially inject CO2, Saló-Salgado uses MATLAB to simulate CO2 storage and develop high resolution models of fault zones. These models help him study how the distribution of geological materials in the region affects the permeability of large-scale faults.

When he’s not in the lab, Saló-Salgado enjoys rock climbing and reading. He was previously a representative of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the MIT Graduate Student Council and is currently the treasurer of Spain @ MIT.

Operating on a scale much smaller than that of planets and geological formations, Haowei Xu, a MathWorks scholar and doctoral student in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, researching new, more efficient materials to use in the construction of computer components. Familiar technologies, such as computer processors or USB drives, work by using thermal energy to initiate the material phase changes necessary to relay information. However, if the components were constructed from different materials, the light could hypothetically be used to initiate phase changes.

“If you can trigger phase transitions with light, then phase transitions can be very fast and very efficient. Energy efficiency can be very high, ”says Xu. “We offer mechanisms and new materials for these kinds of applications. He is also studying new materials that could be used for efficient light detection and to generate lasers.

Xu uses MATLAB to process data, write code, and perform simulated light interactions with different experimental materials.

“I use MATLAB almost every day,” he says.

Xu is a sports fan, taking the time to watch basketball, football and table tennis games despite his busy schedule in the lab. Trying to find more ways to entertain himself while also socially distancing himself during the pandemic, he also adopted a culinary hobby.

Fiona scholarship, a MathWorks scholar and a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, enjoys hiking, running, and baking for his friends. She also feels lucky that her research, which consists of optimizing drip irrigation systems, requires field trips.

“Agriculture accounts for a significant portion of the world’s freshwater use, and reports indicate that to sustainably feed a growing population, farmers will need to both reduce the amount of water consumed and increase production. on farmland that already exists, ”she says.

For several reasons, Grant’s research focuses specifically on systems intended to benefit smallholder agriculture in arid regions of the world. While small farmers and indigenous peoples are often excluded from participation in political decisions, these groups tend to have essential knowledge about sustainable farming techniques and types of crops for their region, she says. Additionally, some studies suggest that intensification may be more effective per unit area on smaller plots of land.

Grant, along with his colleagues, created an optimization tool in MATLAB that can help design low-cost, solar-powered drip irrigation systems based on inputs from local weather, crops, and disposition. the fields. She is now using the software to create an energy management controller that harnesses the inherent variation in the system’s energy flow to reduce operating costs and ensure reliability.

“The goal of our work is to design a product that performs… that is economically and technologically accessible to smallholders while taking into account local conditions and available materials,” says Grant.


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