CSEM Student Tim Smith first learned as an intern what was possible with computational tools

2017 CSEM Student Tim Smith, researcher with Dr. Patrick Heimbach, and former intern, as well as a former Graham Carey Scholar.

Mechanical engineering students at UT are sometimes called ‘etcetera engineers.’

That’s partly because the mechanical engineering building—called the Engineering Teaching Building II—is often abbreviated to ETC. But it’s mainly because of the breadth of topics the field encompasses and opportunities it enables.

Tim Smith, a summer 2013 Moncrief Undergraduate Summer Intern, and a 2014 UT mechanical engineering grad, embraced the etcetera as a student. He worked as an facilities engineer intern for BHP Billiton in Houston, and helped ICES professor Michael Sacks construct computational heart models as an ICES summer intern.

Smith is continuing to pursue his scientific interests post-graduate, but as a different sort of ‘etcetera engineer:’ an ICES Computational Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (CSEM) graduate student and holder of a CSEM fellowship.

“I like how ICES has this mentality of ‘come and learn, talk with professors, figure out where you want to go,’” Smith said.

In addition to being accepted into the CSEM program, Smith received ICES’ 2014 Graham F. Carey Computational Science Scholarship for his interest and achievements in computational science displayed during his ICES internship.

However, Smith’s experience in computational science goes farther back than the internship. As an undergraduate he worked as a researcher in engineering professor Mark Deinert’s lab. Mentored by Deinert, as well as post-docs and graduate students, Smith applied computational methods to explore an alternative timeline in energy investment and research. His work examined the state of photovoltaic materials if more funding had been provided in the past.

Smith says the research he conducted with Sacks required applying computational science in a completely new way. Instead of analyzing trends in research progress and investment, he was using computational methods to integrate MRI data from various sources into a single representative model. It was a new experience in what was possible with computational tools, said Smith, who started off with no experience in the programs or software he used throughout his internship.

“It was really cool because it was all visual. The program would build this 3-D model as you go when you put these images together,” Smith said.

Smith says as a CSEM student he plans to continue researching the world by applying computational methods. He now works with ICES Professor Patrick Heimbach in computational oceanographic modeling. While still feel fresh to the field, He's interested in reduced order methods for uncertainty quantification in a global ocean model.

"This is a serious challenge because for typical modern day global grids, the degrees of freedom reaches roughly 100 million so reducing this to a tractable number is essential."

He’s not sure where it will take him, but he likes the lifestyle of the computational researcher as described by his ICES Professor George Biros who supervised his internship: Your job is to wake up and work toward learning something new each day.

Posted: Jan. 17, 2017