Student Projects

The Department firmly believes that independent research is an integral component of an engineer’s education. Consequently, all seniors are required to complete a year-long thesis project, write a thesis and present the results of their work throughout the year. Sophomores and juniors are also encouraged to participate in independent research and should take the initiative to discuss their interests with departmental faculty members.

Below are some recent examples of excellent work.


 

Joyce Kimojino '19

 

Figure from Joyce Kimojino's thesis paper, depicting electrification technology on a map of Africa
Thesis Title

The Future of Electricity Generation and Distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa

Project Overview

There are 630 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without power, and as a result they suffer reduced educational opportunities, lower economic prosperity, and jeopardized human health. The common perception is that the way forward is with fossil fuels and national grids.  Through a comprehensive analysis of resources and economic costs– on a spatial resolution of 1 square km -- Joyce showed that electrification can be achieved using renewable energy and mini-grids for as much as 50% reduced cost relative to a national grid approach. To achieve this, Joyce compiled and integrated spatial data sources of solar radiation, wind speed, hydrodynamic potential, population density, elevation maps, land cover types, current and planned power transmission networks, distances to coastal ports, night lights data, and substation. Joyce’s findings that electrification can be achieved not only cost effectively but also with renewable energy is a win-win-win for the African people, for Sub-Saharan national governments and for the planet’s climate.

Advisers

Minjie Chen, assistant professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment

Catherine Peters, chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering

joyce
Hometown

Narok, Kenya

CEE Subplan track

Geological Engineering

Plans after graduation

“I will spend two years working for InterSystems Corporation (a company that specializes in software and tech products for the health care industry) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before going to graduate school.”

On seeing the bigger picture: “A key takeaway from my thesis research is that there is a big intersectionality between technology and environmental studies, especially in understanding the terrain of energy access in information-starved areas like sub-Saharan Africa.”


 

Mitchell Hallee '19

 

Figure from research showing crack variation in clay bricks
Thesis Title

Automated Image-Based Crack Detection in Masonry Structures: A Novel Application of Convolutional Neural Networks

Project Overview

The aim was to create an automated means of detecting cracks in masonry walls using images alone. We are surrounded by brick structures which, though generally resilient, can be subject to failure. This research is the first to demonstrate a viable method for image-based crack detection in masonry structures. This was done using machine learning techniques. A convolutional neural network was trained on images taken from brick walls in the lab and then able to achieve 86% accuracy in classifying images taken from actual brick structures as cracked or uncracked.

Adviser

Branko Glisic, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering

MItchell Hallee
Hometown

East Hampton, CT

CEE Subplan Track

 Structural Engineering

Certificate

Engineering and Management Systems

Plans after graduation

Field engineer with Kiewit Construction, Engineering and Mining Services in Alexandria, Virginia


 

Greta Miller '19

 

Figure 1 from Greta Miller's thesis project
Thesis Title

Modeling the Hydrologic Balance of Epiphytes: Towards an Improvement of Evapotranspiration Estimates in Rainforests

Project Overview

Ecohydrological models are essential to the study of ecological processes, water resources engineering, and climate modeling. Epiphytes make up to a third of the biomass in some rainforests and can impact the regional water budget, but the unique hydrologic characteristics of epiphytes have not yet been included in ecohydrological models. This work sought to develop a water balance model for epiphytes, and to use the model to determine how varying climatic conditions affect water use epiphytes. The unique water uptake and utilization behavior of epiphytes was modeled in a numerical water balance model that is coupled to a photosynthesis model. The application of vertical profiles of environmental inputs within the rainforest canopy show increasing transpiration rates with increasing canopy height. The results of this work help to provide a crucial missing piece to current ecohydrological  models, and can be integrated into climate models to help improve estimations of transpiration and free-surface evaporation from canopy, which will become increasingly important for future climate change projections.

Adviser

Amilcare Porporato, professor of civil and environmental engineering

 

Greta Miller

Hometown

Santa Fe, NM

CEE Subplan track

Environmental Engineering

Plans after graduation

Doctoral studies in civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley