Research is about discovering new ways to use our resources, exploring new ideas that can change the way we understand ourselves and our environment, and finding new ways to approach the problems we face. The keyword here is "new", and the novelty component of research is what makes it interesting. Through our research, we seek to improve the world by learning things that have never before been learned.
Current work at Stevens
I founded and direct the Design of Sustainable Products Across Complex Environments (Design SPACE) Laboratory, where we look into the ways that we can use systems models to understand how to design more sustainable products and systems. This work revolves around the central themes of design, sustainability, and complexity, and three research thrust areas have emerged: Design and optimization methods, systems simulation and policy, and systems and design education.
In the area of design and optimization methods, we are developing and testing new design methods and tools to support tradeoff exploration and optimal decision making. Recent projects in this area include a new framework for holistic sustainable design of consumer products, an international collaboration to develop a research roadmap for sustainable design, multidisciplinary design optimization (MDO) of an aircraft model, MDO of a military artillery system, and scheduling optimization for maintence staff assignments. MDO is an approach to designing complex products or systems where the models and tools used to analyze the system span a number of different disciplines. For example, when optimizing the design of an aircraft, we need to concurrently analyze the aerodynamics, structural integrity, and engine performance. This is particularly challenging because the design of each of these subsystems affects the performance of the others, and usually the subsystem models are created by and understandable to different individuals or departments within an organization. Our research looks into how to support better system integration and decision-making through numerical optimization in complex design situations and other decision scenarios.
Our systems simulation and policy research involves integrating models from different disciplines to support design, strategy, and policy decision making. Recent projects include agent-based simulation of a sustainable electricity grid, market system simulation of passenger cars, and system dynamics modeling of sustainable consumer product design and policy. This research is founded in the disciplines of decision-based design and design for market systems, which quantify stakeholder preferences and mathematically model their preferences, using knowledge of the economic utility-maximizing behavior of those individuals to make optimal decisions. This creates a framework for businesses and governments to optimize strategies and policies to maximize their goals. For example, if we want to decrease our national or global fuel consumption and emissions from automobiles, we need to change the ways that cars are designed, the ways that companies market and price their vehicles, the ways that consumers purchase and use vehicles, and the ways that policy-makers regulate and incentivize the market. Understanding these interactions can help us anticipate market system reactions, improve the ways that decisions are made, and ultimately lead to more sustainable outcomes.
As an educator, I naturally became curious in taking a research approach to improving systems and design education. Our research in this space aims to understand how people at different levels (K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and professional) learn and practice systems thinking, sustainability, and design, as well as the development and testing of new educational methods and tools. Projects in this area include a study on how students understand and learn market-driven design concepts, an investigation of student attitudes and behaviors when they are faced with a sustainable design task, and concept mapping with students and practitioners regarding their perceptions of sustainability, and a review and roadmap for the future of systems engineering education. The findings of this work are directly implementable into classrooms and training programs to improve the ways that people learn and retain these important concepts.
Post-doctoral work at Chalmers
During my nearly two and a half years in Sweden, I worked to bring systems thinking into interdisciplinary approaches to design, with an emphasis on product quality and sustainability. This combines engineering models, decision theory models, economic models, and a systems framework to build an understanding of how different decisions with respect to product development and adoption will affect the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of the surrounding world.
Graduate work at Michigan
My graduate work at the University of Michigan (Ph.D. 2012, M.S.E. 2008) focused on simulation-based design optimization of vehicles for safety accounting for uncertainty, human factors, and market considerations. One case study looked into military vehicle blast protection, where the main findings contributed to an understanding of design trade-offs with respect to overall personnel safety from rollovers, fuel convoy exposure, and underbody explosions. Another case study looked into civilian vehicle crash protection, where the main findings showed how different crash test standards set by the New Car Assessment Program would likely result in changes to the vehicle fleet, crash events, and frequency of different types of injuries.
Undergraduate work at Maryland
As an undergraduate at the University of Maryland (B.S. 2007), I was involved in two research projects. For my Engineering Honors Program thesis, I used scaled-down experiments to better understand the dynamic effects of buried explosives on above-ground targets, with the intent to aid in the design of amphibious naval vehicle structures. As part of a three-year Gemstone Honors Program project, I participated in an interdisciplinary team project to develop a product and corresponding business around a novel technology for micro- and nano-technology education.