Engineering Systems and Environment Briefs

Welcome to Engineering Systems and Environment Briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from our department faculty, students, staff and alumni.


    Cody Pennetti Named a Finalist in Society for Risk Analysis’ Student Merit Competition

    November 06, 2019
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    Cody Pennetti, a Ph.D. student working with Engineering Systems and Environment professor James H. Lambert at the Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, is a finalist in the Student Merit Competition organized by the Society for Risk AnalysisEngineering and Infrastructure Specialty Group. The competition promotes excellence in risk analysis research for engineering and infrastructure management.

    As a finalist, Cody submitted a video and will be prepared to present his research at the society’s annual meeting in December. The video explains his research on multiple objective risk analysis that aims to help decision-makers, community planners and transportation agencies design infrastructure for a future that includes the integration of autonomous vehicles. Watch the video to learn more about Pennetti's research.


    Engineering Systems and Environment Professor Selected to Lead School’s Faculty Council

    September 27, 2019
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    Professor Venkataraman “Venkat” Lakshmi, one of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment’s newest faculty members, has been elected to serve as chair of the University of Virginia School of Engineering Faculty Council.

    The council is composed of UVA Engineering faculty members who serve on the University Faculty Senate. Members are elected by secret ballot, and the council selects a chair from among its membership each year. Lakshmi will take over from Peter D. Norton, associate professor of science, technology and society, who was chair from 2012 to 2014 and from 2017 to 2019. Norton continues to serve on the council, as he has since 2011.

    The council advocates for the interests and values of all UVA Engineering faculty members and is charged with advising deans and department chairs on the faculty members’ behalf. Its responsibilities include consulting with and advising the dean on matters concerning the School, such as long-range planning; liaising with the administration; and providing counsel in the appointment of associate and assistant deans.

    Lakshmi, who earned his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Princeton University in 1996, began his career as a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He has held a number of appointments, including two sabbaticals at Stanford University as Cox Visiting Professor in 2006-2007 and 2015-2016. From 1999 to 2018, he served on the faculty of the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of South Carolina, including a three-year term as department chair from 2008 to 2011. He directed the National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences Program from July 2017 to December 2018.

    Professor Lakshmi’s areas of research interest include catchment hydrology, satellite data validation and assimilation, field experiments, land-atmosphere interactions, satellite data downscaling, the vadose zone — the area of that extends from Earth’s ground surface to the water table — and water resources. He specializes in using data collected from space to make observations about the terrestrial water cycle to better understand weather, climate and ecological systems.


    Kelsey Hollenback Awarded a Department of Defense SMART Scholarship

    August 23, 2019
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    Kelsey Hollenback, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, has been awarded a SMART Scholarship (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship) by the Department of Defense. She will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center on its Risk and Decision Science Team. Kelsey’s scholarship will cover tuition and fees and includes an allowance for books, supplies and an annual stipend.

    The SMART Scholarship is designed to enhance the Department of Defense's workforce by supporting talented and innovative scientists, engineers and researchers while in school and through summer internships. Upon degree completion, SMART scholars work in a civilian position for his or her sponsoring facility.


    Researchers Study Effects of Climate Change on Forests With Help From Space

    August 07, 2019
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    Linnea Saby, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment and Presidential Fellow at the Data Science Institute, is working on a cutting-edge project to study the effects of climate change on Shenandoah National Park forests. Saby and her research partner, environmental science Ph.D. student Jake Malcomb, will use massive geospatial data sets collected from the International Space Station through two new NASA programs.

    Their work aims to help understand how to manage and conserve forests under changing climate conditions. The researchers told UVA Today they will use conventional and new data science techniques and tools, including artificial neural networks, to analyze the huge amounts of data. Artificial neural networks are a form of artificial intelligence built with algorithms based on the structure of the human brain that can detect patterns and trends in data.

    Saby’s Engineering Systems and Environment advisors are Associate Professor Jonathan Goodall and Ernest H. Ern Professor of Environmental Science Larry Band. She is a research assistant in the Link Lab, UVA’s Engineering’s multidisciplinary center for cyber-physical research.


    Lambert Chairs Fifth World Congress on Risk

    August 01, 2019
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    Professor James H. Lambert, who directs Engineering Systems and Environment’s Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, chaired the 2019 Fifth World Congress on Risk. The Congress is organized by the Society for Risk Analysis in partnership with the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Africa Biennial Conference to grow innovation and knowledge across risk analysis and management communities. It brought together government, industry and academic scientists and experts from a variety of disciplines to exchange ideas and research related to this year’s theme, “Development and Resilience.”

    As hosts, the partnering organizations continue a tradition of providing global leadership in risk analysis and management science and policy. Participants in the Congress exchanged academic research, innovations, and practical knowledge and experience to expand the frontiers of risk analysis. Combining their interdisciplinary expertise, the participants aim to leverage their insights and grow capabilities to address world societal challenges involving health, safety, environment, engineering and infrastructure, enterprise, emerging technologies, regulation, communication, security, policy and finance. Read more about the program here.

    UVA’s Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems was represented at the Fifth World Congress on Risk in by Professors James H. Lambert, Marwan Alsultan, and Ayedh Almutairi and Alexander Ganin, Zachary Collier and Heimir Thorisson.


    Hyunglok Kim’s Soil Moisture Proposal Earns Selection to NASA’s ‘Future Investigator’ Program

    July 12, 2019
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    Hyunglok Kim, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, has been selected for NASA’s first class of Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology. His research proposal was one of only 59 accepted for the new Future Investigators program in the earth science funding division. The maximum award is $135,000 over three years.

    Kim is working with Professor Venkat Lakshmi, who joined the Engineering Systems and Environment faculty in 2019, as his principal investigator. The project is “Diurnal Soil Moisture Using Satellite Observations and Data Assimilation.” Kim said he wanted to investigate the topic because he believes it offers critical — and surprising — insight to improving our knowledge of Earth’s climate systems.

    NASA peer-reviewed 428 earth science proposals and a total of 966 proposals that were submitted in response to the inaugural Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology solicitation, according to the website. Four funding divisions in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters — earth science, heliophysics, planetary science and astrophysics — provided oversight for the peer review process.

    The solicitation invited proposals for graduate student-designed research projects that contribute to the Science Mission Directorate’s science, technology and exploration goals.

    Read more about this research in UVA Today.


    Systems Engineering Student Makes Case at Harvard Law School for Electronic Research Assistant

    June 28, 2019
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    Faraz Dadgostari, who is working on his Ph.D. in systems engineering at the University of Virginia, gave a talk at Harvard Law School titled “Learning Knowledge Search Techniques in the Law.” The project is a collaboration with Michael Livermore, a UVA Law professor and Peter Beling, professor and associate chair for research in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at UVA.

    Their work combines natural language processing and reinforcement learning to replicate how attorneys search and select from legal cases when they are developing arguments for given legal questions. The team’s approach learns from the in-text citations in U.S. Supreme Court opinions, leading to algorithms that search for the smallest set of relevant cases required for the legal arguments the lawyer is trying to make, Faraz said.

    The work introduces a novel theory of legal search and new reinforcement learning formulations. The project is supported in part by the Center for Visual and Decision Informatics, a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. Professor Beling is the center’s UVA site director.

    Learn more about Farazs work on his website, or check out the video of his presentation at Harvard.


    Wenjian Jia Wins Awards at 2019 ASCE International Conference

    June 14, 2019

    Civil engineering Ph.D. student Wenjian Jia won the Best Paper Award at the 2019 American Society of Civil Engineers International Conference on Transportation & Development for his paper, “Evaluating Fuel Tax Revenue Impacts of Electric Vehicle Adoption in Virginia Counties: Applications of a Bivariate Linear Mixed Count Model.” Wenjian also won the Younger Member 3-Minute Pitch contest at the conference, pitching new research at UVA on the energy and emissions impacts of autonomous electric vehicles. The paper was recently published in Transportation Research Record.


    Video Highlights of the Spring 2019 UVA F1/10 Autonomous Racing Undergraduate Course

    May 24, 2019

    Professor Madhur Behl’s course in autonomous racing allows students working in teams to build, drive and race 1/10th-scale autonomous cars, while learning about the principles of perception, planning and control. They learn to use a robot operating system (ROS); integrate various sensors such as an inertial measurement unit (IMU), cameras, and light detection and ranging (LIDAR) on an embedded computer; and implement algorithms for localization, mapping, path planning and control. The course culminates in a F1/10 “battle of algorithms” race among the teams.

    See this video for this semester’s highlights. 

    For more information about the course, please visit the autonomous racing website.


    Cody Fleming Selected as Henry Kinnier Award Recipient

    April 19, 2019
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    Assistant Professor Cody Fleming was selected as the Henry Kinnier Award recipient by the Mead Endowment in conjunction with the School of Engineering dean’s office. The Mead Endowment is a program created and funded by friends and former students of beloved University of Virginia faculty member Ernest “Boots” Mead, honoring his impact on the lives of one generation of students after another.

    The program is meant to celebrate and perpetuate the University’s unique tradition of faculty interaction with students. The Henry Kinnier Award encourages these same interactions between engineering faculty and students. Through this award and associated funding, Professor Fleming will develop his “dream idea,” creating an opportunity for positive relationships with students that extend beyond normal classroom activity.