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Summer 2019 Research Experiences in Power and Energy Systems for Smart Cities

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Aurora VanDam

Ritchie School Student Reporter

Blog Post  •
REU 2019

Students, Celina Wilkerson and Lesley Figueroa, completed their nine-week research projects this past summer through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program led by Dr. David Gao (Primary PI) and Dr. Amin Khodaei here at the Ritchie School of Engineering with DU. The program is funded by a three-year research grant from the National Science Foundation that includes a total of eleven undergraduate students from schools all over the country; two of them being our rising Juniors, Celina and Lesley. The REU focuses on smart city research­–meaning: cities that thrive to attain enhanced livability, enhanced workability, and enhanced sustainability. Each student has the freedom to choose their own specific research topic, such as, transportation electrification, community micro grids, renewable energy, or power system resiliency. The program hopes to find the “next generation of engineers and leaders in the energy sector.”

Wilkerson is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering while Figueroa is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering. Each of them focused on electrical infrastructures in their research. Figueroa responds to why she joined the program, “it was a great opportunity to have the flexibility to work on a project that involved the kind of experience I needed for the direction I am hoping to go with my career,” and Wilkerson adds, “REU allows students to be immersed in research that also looks great on a resume.” Both women were given the chance to work side-by-side with professionals in the field and gain valuable feedback on their work. This included researchers from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, CO; furthermore, they had the opportunity to learning about the research process at a graduate and professional level–a skill they will be able to use for the rest of their careers.

As a school that prides itself on sustainability, the REU program helps to align students with DU values in a pragmatic approach. Dr. Khodaei, Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Professor, says, “the significant interest that students showed towards renewable energy and climate change related topics was quite enlightening. We had several students selecting solar, wind technologies, and batteries as their primary research topics.”

Wilkerson and Figueroa both emanated a real sense of accomplishment and fulfillment from their summer of research. Dr. Khodaei notes: “students are interested in solving the problems that have bigger global and societal impacts…they are passionate when they see they can make an impact.” In response to what their favorite moments of the program were, Figueroa said, “I was extremely excited when I was able to run the software that I coded with algorithms I had to program myself…it made me very happy to see my end results display visually how the algorithms affected my graphs.” Similarly, Wilkerson added, “my favorite moment of the program was when I got my code to work. I felt accomplished and relieved knowing it was the missing piece to complete my research.”

Dr. Gao and Dr. Khodaei hope the students took away three things from their summer:

“One: how to do research and get familiar with the research process as an undergraduate student. This understanding is the primary goal of the program; Two: seeing the bigger picture in terms of opportunities available to them after graduation, in terms of research, graduate school, and job opportunities; Three: gaining motivation to solve research problems for energy sustainability in smart cities.”