R.M. Parsons Laboratory
Environmental Science and Engineering

MIT News: Civil & Environmental Engineering

October 19, 2018

September 27, 2018

  • Three technology trends are quickly changing global supply chains, revenue management, and the retail industry as a whole: digitization, analytics, and automation. But digital innovation does not come easily. Challenges include internal resistance to change, the siloing of data, and difficulty providing companies with the skills required to understand, predict, and change behavior.

    The Accenture and MIT Alliance for Business Analytics has been collaborating with entities across multiple industries to take advantage of these technology trends to impact their business performance. Implementing machine intelligence and digital processes is a substantial opportunity for companies who are willing to innovate. Indeed, the difference between the companies that take advantage of these technology trends and those who do not is the difference between industry performance leaders and industry followers.

    Data suggest delaying digital innovation could be a risk to a firm’s long-term health. The Alliance for Business Analytics recently collected data from hundreds of companies and found clear and definable differences between companies that are truly data-driven and those that either have not been successful in using data or have not made a serious attempt to use data in their business. Their study reports a direct relationship between the adoption of machine intelligence and digital business innovation and leading business performance indicators, independent of the industry. In the end, digital innovation not only impacts cost reduction, revenue, profit, and market share but it also affects customer satisfaction, retention, and experience. David Simchi-Levi, professor of engineering systems and of civil and environmental engineering, leader of the Alliance for Business Analytics, and member of the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, recently sat down to discuss the alliance's work.

    Q: How are you working with industry to advance your research and application of your models?

    A: Our research has been applied in many companies including Groupon, Rue La La, and a few airline carriers. This has resulted in improved efficiencies, risk mitigation, and significant revenue increase. We are actively working with most of the largest global retailers in the world. This is very exciting, as we're helping to shape the digital retail experience and improve results for both the industry as a whole and the consumer.

    Students and postdocs in my analytics lab collaborate with companies across various industries to combine data science, machine learning, and optimization modeling. Together with these companies, we conduct in-depth research on supply chain, business-to-business and business-to-consumer demand prediction improvement, supply chain revenue, and operations optimization using data from across a company’s enterprise.

    The companies we work with bring their challenges to us and our focus is on the integration of machine learning and optimization techniques in a way that solve these problems and create competitive opportunities. We work with each company’s internal data and relevant external data and their application environment where our team conducts the research. This enables the development of new approaches that decipher supply chain demand, increase proactive cognitive supply chain responses, predicts consumer demand and optimizes pricing.

    This joint research environment is designed to yield powerful new capabilities to exploit data, machine learning and new innovative processes to deliver improved customer service, experience, and retention.

    Once these new techniques have been implemented, companies have a new powerful data-driven platform that continues to learn, predict and optimize process and outcomes across the enterprise.

    Q: How is technology affecting global supply chains and the retail industry?

    A: Digitization, advanced analytics, and automations each enable three business opportunities: First is to improve operations. For example, the work I've done with my research team has provided Ford with the technology that applies data and analytics to identify hidden supply chain risks and develop the appropriate mitigation strategies. Similarly, the work I've conducted through the alliance has provided one of the largest mining companies in Latin America with analytics that uses data from thousands of sensors to improve product quality.

    The second opportunity is to provide dynamic and customized offerings. Many retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, use cost-plus when pricing their products, a simple strategy whereby price is determined by adding a pre-determined markup percentage to the product cost. In recent years, my lab has taken advantage of new opportunities provided by technology trends by applying them to optimize price at Boston-based flash sales retailer Rue La La, online market maker Groupon, and the largest online retailer in Latin America, B2W Digital (B2W). These examples are on-line businesses, which have readily available data and can change prices dynamically, but we also implemented similar methods for brick-and-mortar retailers in applications such as promotional pricing, new product introduction, and assortment optimization.

    Finally, the third opportunity is to introduce new business models that were not possible before. This is nicely illustrated with the story of companies such as Rolls-Royce, General Electric, and United Technology. In all of these cases, the companies continuously monitor thousands of engines on commercial aircraft and use analytics to identify problems before they occur. They charge the carriers based on usage time while they are responsible for all maintenance and repairs. This allows the carriers to cut costs, engine downtime, and increase airline safety.

    Q: Looking ahead, what do you suggest brick-and-mortar and online retailers should do to take advantage of current trends?

    A: Recent trends present significant opportunities for many companies, particularly in the retail industry. But there is no one standard approach for digitizing the supply chain and becoming a data-driven organization. So, it's hard for executives to know where to start and how to integrate the various processes into an end-to-end strategy. That said, doing nothing is no longer a sustainable choice in the fast-paced digital world.

    My experience is that to achieve value and scale, companies need to start a journey that involves defining the vision and value targets; identifying changes to the operating model, and organizational structure; and defining data and technology strategies. More importantly, these companies need to realize the future of their businesses requires attracting, motivating, and promoting people with new skills, people who can apply the data and analytics in an effective way.

August 30, 2018

  • Shih-Ying Lee, a longtime MIT mechanical engineering professor and expert in process control, measurement, and instrumentation, passed away peacefully on July 2 in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Lee '43, SCD '45 had recently celebrated his 100th birthday in April.

    Lee’s career spanned over six decades and included positions in both academia and industry. In 2015, he provided an overview of his professional and personal achievements in his autobiography entitled, “From Tsinghua to MIT — My Journey from Education to Entrepreneurship.”

    Born in Beijing (known at the time as Beiping), China, on April 30, 1918, Lee was drawn to engineering at an early age. He received a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University in the midst of World War II and the Second Sino-Japanese War. Upon graduating, Lee worked as a bridge designer and hydraulic power research engineer for the Chinese government.

    Eager to continue his education in the United States, Lee made a harrowing journey halfway around the world in the midst of global conflict. He flew first to India, then took a ship to the U.S. via South America. In 1942 he enrolled at MIT, where he received master's and doctor of science degrees in civil engineering.

    After a two-year stint at Cram and Ferguson Architects, Lee returned to MIT as a research engineer in the Dynamic Analysis and Control Lab. He joined the faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1952. Throughout his tenure as a professor, Lee made extensive improvements to several courses including 2.171 (at the time, Fluid Power Control) and 2.173 (Measurement and Control).

    Lee’s interest in measurement and instrumentation extended beyond the classrooms of MIT. He shared an entrepreneurial spirit and interest in startups with his brother, MIT professor of aeronautics Yao-Tzu Li SM '38, SCD '39. In 1953, they co-founded Dynisco Inc., which manufactured pressure-measuring instruments. To focus on his work at MIT, Lee sold Dynisco to the American Brake Shoe Company in 1960.  

    Less than a decade later, the brothers formed Setra Systems Inc., which specialized in instruments for sensing and measuring. The company designed and manufactured devices such as accelerometers, pressure transducers, and laboratory balances. These instruments, and all other products produced by Setra, had variable capacitance sensors, an application co-developed by Lee and his brother.

    In 1974, Lee retired after 22 years on the mechanical engineering faculty at MIT. For the next three decades, much of his professional focus was on Setra Systems, where he served as chair and chief executive officer in the 1990s. Many of his patents involved pressure and force sensing products developed at Setra.

    Throughout his career, Lee received a number of prestigious awards in recognition of his many contributions to the fields of process control, instrumentation, and sensing. In 1981 he received the Rufus Oldenburger Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for his permanent contribution to the field of automatic control. Several years later, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for “original research on control valve stability, for innovative dynamic measurement instrumentation, and for successful entrepreneurial commercialization of his inventions.” He also received the Technical Excellence Award from the International Society of Weighing and Measurement for his introduction of a new force and weight sensing method.

    Lee was married to his first wife, May Kao Lee, for 22 years until her death. He was married to his second wife, Lena Yin Lee for 45 years until her death in May 2018. In 1991, Lee and Lena established the Shih-Ying (1943) & Lena Y. Lee Endowed Fellowship Fund in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The scholarship was most recently awarded to a graduate student in 2016.

    Later in his life, Lee enjoyed keeping up with the latest personal computing devices, staying fit with his daily walks and exercises, connecting with his children and grandchildren, and playing Scrabble with his wife at their home in Lincoln. He is survived by their four children: Carol Lee; David Lee ME '73, PhD ’80; Linda Lee PhD '85; and Eileen Brooks. 

August 6, 2018

  • Image: Oliver Jahn / MIT EAPS

    Microbes sustain all of Earth’s habitats, including its largest biome, the global ocean. Microbes in the sea capture solar energy, catalyze biogeochemical transformations of important elements, produce and consume greenhouse gases, and fuel the marine food web. Measuring and modeling the distribution, composition, and function of microbial communities, and their interactions with the environment, are key to understanding these fundamental processes in the ocean.

    The Simons Foundation, which provides generous funding for several lines of research within MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, recently extended its support for microbial oceanography with the establishment of the Simons Foundation Collaboration on Ocean Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems (CBIOMES). Led by MIT professor of oceanography Michael Follows, CBIOMES draws together an multidisciplinary group of both U.S. and international investigators bridging oceanography, statistics, data science, ecology, biogeochemistry, and remote sensing.

    The goal of CBIOMES (pronounced “sea biomes”), which leverages and extends Follow’s Darwin Project activity, is to develop and apply quantitative models of the structure and function of marine microbial communities at seasonal and basin scales.

    As Follows explains, “Microbial communities in the sea mediate the global cycles of elements including climatically significant carbon, sulfur and nitrogen. Photosynthetic microbes in the surface ocean fix these elements into organic molecules, fueling food webs that sustain fisheries and most other life in the ocean. Sinking and subducted organic matter is remineralized and respired in the dark, sub-surface ocean, maintaining a store of carbon about three times the size of the atmospheric inventory of CO2.”

    The communities of microbes that sustain these global-scale cycles are functionally and genetically extremely diverse, non-uniformly distributed and sparsely sampled. Their biogeography reflects selection according to the relative fitness of myriad combinations of traits that govern interactions with the environment and other organisms. Trait-based theory and simulations provide tools with which to interpret biogeography and microbial mediation of biogeochemical cycles. Follows says, “Several outstanding challenges remain: Observations to constrain the biogeography of marine microbes are still sparse and based on eclectic sampling methods. Theories of the organization of the system have not been quantitatively tested, and the models used to simulate the system still lack sufficiently mechanistic biological foundations. Addressing these issues will enable meaningful, dynamic simulations and state estimation.”

    CBIOMES seeks to integrate key new data sets in real-time as they are collected at sea to facilitate direct tests of theoretical predictions to synthesize an atlas of marine microbial biogeography suitable for testing a range of specific ecological theories and quantifying the skill of numerical simulations. It also aspires to develop new trait-based models and simulations of regional and global microbial communities bringing to bear the power of metabolic constraints and knowledge of macro-molecular composition; to analyze these data and models using statistical tools to interpolate and extrapolate the sparse data sets, formally quantify the skill of numerical simulations, and employ data assimilation technologies to identify and optimize compatible model frameworks. “Together, the results of these efforts will advance new theoretical approaches and lead to improved global ocean-scale predictions and regional state-estimates, constrained by observed biogeography. They will provide a quantification of the associated biogeochemical fluxes,” says Follows.

    Working with Follows on CBIOMES are principal investigators Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT; Jacob BienChristopher Edwards, and Jed Fuhrman of the University of Southern California; Zoe Finkel and Andrew Irwin of Mount Allison University in Canada; Shubha Sathyendranath of Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the U.K., and Joseph Vallino of the Marine Biological Laboratory.

    A meeting held at the Simons Foundation in New York City May 21 through 23 provided a first opportunity for collaborators to meet face-to-face, and provided a forum for investigators to educate one another about each others expertise and areas of activity, share initial progress, and coordinate collaborative efforts.

    Discussions centered around how to determine the biogeography of marine microbes from empirical date, the role of statistical models in determining the relationships in space and time between organisms, traits, and environments, the complimentary role of mechanistic models and how to simulate the systems that are observed, and, in the context of model-date synthesis, how to best utilize empirical data to test theory and improve simulation skill.

    “While the central question 'What is the functional biogeography of a group of organisms in the oceans?' is relatively focused, the techniques being used are extremely varied focusing a lot on computational tools, but uniquely, hand-in-hand with data collection and data compilation,” says Follows. “I am particularly excited by everyone’s enthusiasm, the number of cross-connections and collaborations already underway, and the rapid progress that is happening on many fronts.”

    Complementary to CBIOMES is the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE) co-led by Ed DeLong of the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and David Karl of the University of Hawaii. SCOPE’s focus is advancing understanding of marine biology, biogeochemistry, ecology and evolution of microbial processes by focusing on a representative ocean benchmark, Station ALOHA, located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

    SCOPE-Gradients, a related project, with a focus on understanding transitions between the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre and neighboring ecosystems, brings a rich stream of observational data to the CBIOMES effort. The North Pacific Subpolar Gyre is a region of open ocean notable for exhibiting steep changes in environmental conditions (gradients) associated with dramatic changes in the microbial ecosystem. Several members of the SCOPE-Gradients team accompanied project principal investigator Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington to the May CBIOMES meeting.

    The mission of the Simons Foundation is to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. Co-founded in New York City by Jim and Marilyn Simons, the foundation exists to support basic — or discovery-driven — scientific research undertaken in the pursuit of understanding the phenomena of our world.

    As well as Michael Follows, other Simons Foundation funded investigators in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences include Tanja BosakGregory Fournier, and Roger Summons. Several MIT postdocs have been recipients of Simons Postdoctoral Fellowships, among them Alexandria JohnsonSukrit Ranjan and Christopher Follett.

July 23, 2018

  • Members of the MIT engineering faculty receive many awards in recognition of their scholarship, service, and overall excellence. Every quarter, the School of Engineering publicly recognizes their achievements by highlighting the honors, prizes, and medals won by faculty working in our academic departments, labs, and centers.

    The following awards were given from April through June, 2018. Submissions for future listings are welcome at any time.

    Emilio Baglietto, of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, won the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Distinguished Teaching on May 14.

    Hari Balakrishnan, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, won the HKN Best Instructor Award on May 18.

    Robert C. Berwick, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the Jerome H. Saltzer Award for Excellence in Teaching on May 18.

    Michael Birnbaum, of the Department of Biological Engineering and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, became a 2018 Pew-Stewart Scholar for Cancer Research on June 14.

    Lydia Bourouiba, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won the Smith Family Foundation Odyssey Award on June 25.

    Michele Bustamante of the Materials Research Laboratory, was awarded a 2018-19 MRS/TMS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship on May 22.

    Oral Buyukozturk, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won the George W. Housner Medal for Structural Control and Monitoring on May 31.

    Luca Carlone of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, won the IEEE Transactions on Robotics “King-Sun Fu" Best Paper Award on May 24.

    Gang Chen, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was elected a 2018 fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on April 18.

    Erik Demaine, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, was awarded the Burgess (1952) and Elizabeth Jamieson Prize for Excellence in Teaching on May 18.

    Srinivas Devadas, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching in May.

    Thibaut Divoux, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won the 2018 Early Career Arthur B. Metzner Award of the Rheology Society on May 3.

    Dennis M. Freeman, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Research Laboratory of Electronics, won an Innovative Seminar Award on May 16; he also won the Burgess (1952) and Elizabeth Jeamieson Prize for Excellence in Teaching on May 18.

    Neville Hogan, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the 2018 EMBS Academic Career Achievement Award on May 10.

    Gim P. Hom, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was honored with the IEEE/Association for Computing Machinery Best Advisor Award on May 18.

    Rohit Karnik, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Regina Barzilay and John N. Tsitsiklis, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Distinguished Teaching in May.

    Dina Katabi, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, was presented with an honorary degree from The Catholic University of America on May 12; she also won the Association for Computing Machinery 2017 Prize in Computing on April 4.

    Rob Miller, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, won the Richard J. Caloggero Award on May 18.

    Eytan Modiano, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, won the IEEE Infocom best paper award on April 18.

    Stefanie Mueller, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, received an honorable mention for the Association for Computing Machinery Doctoral Dissertation Award on June 23. She also won the EECS Outstanding Educator Award on May 18.

    Dava J. Newman, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, won the AIAA Jeffries Aerospace Medicine and Life Sciences Research Award on May 4.

    Christine Ortiz, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, was awarded a J-WEL Grant on May 7.

    Ronitt Rubinfeld, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising in May.

    Jennifer Rupp, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, won a Displaying Futures Award on June 12.

    Alex K. Shalek, of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, has been named one of the 2018 Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research on June 14.

    Alex Slocum, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the Ruth and Joel Spira Outstanding Design Educator Award on June 11.

    Michael P. Short, of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering won the Junior Bose Award in May.

    Joseph Steinmeyer, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the Louis D. Smullin ('39) Award for Excellence in Teaching on May 18.

    Christopher Terman, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, won a MIT Gordon Y Billard Award on May 10.

    Tao B. Schardl, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, won an EECS Outstanding Educator Award on May 18.

    Yang Shao-Horn, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the Faraday Medal on April 19.

    Vinod Vaikuntanathan, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, won the Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award on April 26.

    Kripa Varanasi, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the Gustus L. Larson Memorial Award and the Frank E. Perkins Award for Excellence in Graduate Advising on May 10.

    David Wallace, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was honored with the Ben C. Sparks Medal on April 27.

    Amos Winter, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was named a leader in New Voices in Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on June 8.

    Bilge Yildiz, of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, won the Ross Coffin Purdy Award on June 22.

    Laurence R. Young, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, won the Life Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Branch Aerospace Medical Association Professional Excellence Award on April 27.