Seattle visit and University of Washington Seminar

This past week saw more travel and more amazing experiences in the US. This time it was off to Seattle, Washington to give a talk on my research and the potential of artificial intelligence in enhancing Marine Renewable Energy operations.

Arriving at the University of Washington, I was immediately struck by the sprawling scale and beauty of the campus. So much so that I outright passed the “stop: get your parking permit here” kiosks; shortly thereafter realizing that “parking” on campus is very much a misnomer, and is actually difficult/bordering impossible. Rectifying this with a quick detour which allowed me to take in the Giant Husky Stadium, I arrived just (40) minutes late to my meeting. (Sorry UW faculty!)

Despite the now shortened meeting, however, it was clear that there were some great areas to share ideas and further opportunities for collaboration between the faculty here and at OSU/UCC, and it was fantastic to get to meet so many like-minded people taking an active interest in Marine Renewables.

My afternoon lecture was given to both undergrad, graduate students, and staff of the Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC); as part of the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Seminar.

This graduate seminar series presents speakers of varied interests, industries and professions, which just the previous week saw a presentation from Amazon Robotics, and next week will see a lecture from Blue Origin – Jeff Bezos’s rocket company. If there is a whiff of heavy Amazon presence on here, it’s likely due to their proximity to campus and some of the deeper links between the shopping/tech giant and the university – including Amazon Catalyst; which offers up to $100k to students to allow students, faculty and staff to bring an idea to life, the Amazon Mentor Program, and some of the institutional funding now being provided by them to the college, with Amazon giving $10M for a new world-class computer science building that is expected to be open in early 2019.
While a further $76M of private and state funding is going towards the building, it’s clear that Amazon didn’t see fit to leave the Paul G. Allen (Microsoft co-founder) computer science building as the largest standing tech-giant funded building on campus.

With some time to wander after the seminar, I met with a fellow Fulbrighter, who proved a fantastic tourguide! The UW campus was downright amazing; the very picture of the “American College life” I had always imagined and seen in the movies. Vast, sprawling green areas with long-haired freshmen playing Frisbee. The famous University of Washington Yoshino Cherry Blossoms, just past peak-bloom but still gorgeous, flanked large open areas on campus, and, from one corner of red square they lined a long avenue dropping off to the giant Drumheller fountain with a snow-topped Mount Rainier just peaking through the distant mist.

With the sun still beating down late in the evening, we availed of the on-campus rental of canoes and paddled out into Union Bay, dodging rowers, and making our way past Marsh Island and under the 520 freeway! (Which just a few hundred meters east becomes the evergreen point floating bridge). A truly unique experience, and one that made me wonder why all college campuses don’t offer this level of fun!

The following day I got to visit to Seattle Museum of Flight on Boeing field, taking in “Red Barn,” where Boeing set up shop in 1909 to build some of the first ever commercial aircraft; and a host of very, very special aircraft. These included the world’s first jetliner, the first jet-powered Air Force One (SAM 970), more than 25 WWI and WWII aircraft, the first ever Boeing 747, one of just four Concordes on display outside Europe and possibly most special – a Full Fuselage Trainer (space shuttle mock-up produced by NASA for astronaut training). There was so much on offer at the Museum of Flight that I only managed to visit two of the five buildings in the half-day I spent there. I will definitely have to visit again!

For now it’s back to research, with an upcoming presentation in Washington, D.C. at the end of the month for Waterpower Week /  Marine Energy Technology Symposium, which promises to be seriously interesting!

But first: a quick trip to Bend (Eastern Oregon) for a 5k race – which is really just an opportunity to stretch the legs amidst some great scenery before hopping on a plane again!

 

In pictures: Views of Seattle From Kerry Park & Columbia Tower, The Cherry Blossoms on UW campus, Suzzallo Library (“The Harry Potter Room”), Concorde, Space Shuttle, various old planes, aboard the first jet- Air Force One, The first ever underwater remote operated vehicle at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

 

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Fulbright Enrichment Seminar, Oklahoma City.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Fulbright Enrichment seminar in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. These enrichment seminars are 4-day professional development and networking events, hosted across the United States. It was titled “A City Reinvented: Building an Innovation Ecosystem in Oklahoma City.” The goal of the seminars is to provide participants with the opportunity to meet and network with each other, and with the American citizens in each city.

Across the United States, cities are re-inventing themselves; aligning themselves to the modern vision of entrepreneurship and innovation. Nestled in the midwest’s “Silicion Prairie,” Oklahoma is one such city. Once entirely dependant on the Oil & Gas sector, Oklahoma has become the home to numerous biomedical, life science, aerospace and engineering firms. This seminar provided a unique opportunity to examine why it is important for the city to foster tech-friendly environments, and how it leverages its best assets to attract and retain new tech companies.

Early on in our seminar, we received a talk from the mayor, in which he outlined how the city had managed to grow so successfully, and the unique strategy adopted in attempting to attract people. The core of this strategy is to “Make it a nice place to live,” rather than trying to just attract “jobs”. This is something that is missed by a lot of cities, who eschew improvements to the intrinsic factors which make living somewhere enjoyable and fulfilling, instead using tax-payer money to incentivise job-creation and treating the city and its newfound employees as an afterthought. Coming from a country where our primary job creation strategy has been offering low corporation tax rates and sweetheart deals for large multinationals, this approach was a massive breath of fresh air. It seems to work too, as population numbers in OKC have risen rapidly, and standard of living and development of public works projects have increased considerably.

Later, we heard from a number of OKC based entrepreneurs; including a commercializer of early stage pharmaceutical therapeutics, and the CEO of StitchCrew, a consulting project management firm, about what make Oklahoma a unique place to do business, and what the draws are that would lead someone to choose it over Silicon Valley or Boston. The key qualities of the city touted were the low cost of living, the amount of available space, the sense of community, and the somewhat unique situation whereby politicians now had such a track record of doing the right thing, that they had become afraid to be the one to break this trend. All of these are clearly contributing to a shared effort in driving the city forward.

During our trip, a group of us visited the OU Innovation Hub, a newly renovated centre for innovation attached to the university, but open to all members of the public. With what essentially amounts to an “open door” policy, the innovation hub provides a space for students and members of the public alike to bring to life ideas of fancy, or truly ground-breaking innovations, that can be modelled in the code lab, visualised in Virtual Reality in the vis-lab, and cast to physical form using any one of the 15 3D printers. This was alongside an extensive woodwork shop which houses almost every conceivable tool to bring an idea to life.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was getting to give something back to this new community we found ourselves in. We were divided into a number of groups, and each group visited one of 4 charities to volunteer on Saturday morning. These comprised three food banks and Habitat for Humanity. The group I was in visited The Oklahoma Regional Foodbank, a charity which serves 53 counties within Oklahoma, feeding over 136,000 people each week! We Fulbrighters worked on the packing line, adding food items to boxes that would go to Oklahoma residents in need. Overall, we packaged over 20,000lbs of food, the equivalent of 17,000 meals, and gained a perspective on some of the challenges in this society.29634816_2037725606257197_1320145397_o.jpg

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A highlight of the trip was a visit to the homes of one of 40 Oklahoman host-families, who shared a dinner and their unique perspective with visiting Fulbrighters. It was particularly enlightening to get a view of how long-term residents felt about the city and how it had evolved over time, and to be able to ask questions about day-to-day life in Oklahoma.

Some resounding memories of the trip were visiting Michael Murphy’s in Bricktown to see the Duelling Pianos –  afterall, nothing says midwestern Americana like a moustachioed eastern-european wearing a do-rag and vintage rock t-shirt, belting out classic rock hits on piano to drunken onlookers! – and visiting a hookah (SIC) bar with new friends. The final night saw us cap the trip off with a meal on the 50th floor of the Devon Energy building (the largest in OKC) for a truly unique view of the city we had been getting to know.

 

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This was a fantastic couple of days, and I’m thankful to Fulbright for making it such a unique and beneficial experience. Despite it being a place I may never have found cause to visit otherwise, it was a really impressive city; and the experience of being there with so many talented and like-minded new friends was nothing short of fantastic. Meeting with over 100 people from over 55 countries isn’t something you get to do every day, and I’m positive that many enduring friendships have been made during our visit!

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Disclaimer: These views are entirely my own, and in no way reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission or the IIE.

Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge 2018

This week I had the pleasure of judging the Wind Energy competition at the Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge! Coordinated by Oregon Sea Grant, the Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge is an annual competition in which students show off devices they built that are powered by wind or light. The event promotes the development of skills in science, technology, engineering and math. This year was primarily aimed at students in the 3rd to 5th grades. (8-11 years old), with a “solar boats” and “wind energy” competition. The short video below gives a great outline of the competition!

The standard of work on display for the 2018 competition was very impressive; and it was extremely heartening to see that young kids are excited and engaged with the prospect of a renewable energy future!

The competition for wind energy was scored in two parts –  the energy output of the device, and the poster presentation; which looked at the teams’ understanding of problem, the design process, the teamwork involved in getting to their unique solution.

The wind turbine designs were extremely varied, from 1 inch triangles, to foot-long curved blades, but the results couldn’t have been closer! The top 3 teams scored 61.5, 63 and 63.5 respectively; with Taft elementary managing to take all of the podium positions on the day.

This was an incredibly fun competition, and I think the potential of STEM activities such as these for inspiring kids at a young age is absolutely massive. I fully believe that if we want to secure a better, more sustainable and cleaner energy future; this is where it starts.

Presenting at University of Victoria (Plus a trip to Vancouver and Seattle)

One of the most amazing and inspiring things about travelling for research and meeting people face to face is that you will ALWAYS learn something new; whether it be academic, cultural or commercial. That was entirely the case in meeting Bryson, Helen, Patrick as well as other faculty members at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. I traveled to the University last week to give a talk to a number of interested faculty and grad students. With a strong background in numerical ocean modelling and analysis of the ocean climate at Uvic, it wasn’t long before we realized a lot of common ground. The presentation and ensuing discussion brought up all manner of points related to the future of the wave energy industry, with some great insights all around. The faculty there were also keen to show me some of their latest research, which proved as fascinating as it was fortunate, and I’m sure some collaborative work will be in store in future.

The talk was a discussion of the foundational work of my thesis; the examination of the Killard Point site in Co. Clare as part of the WestWave project being a central focus. It also detailed the challenges that are faced in accurately characterising ocean energy sites, and in determining the energy production that can come from these seas in a reliable way; something that I believe will be crucial in wave energy technology making its way from prototype to full commercial deployment. The slides for the presentation, entitled “Metocean analysis and Machine Learning for improved estimates of energy production in WECs.” can be found below.

The University of Victoria is part of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Centre (NNMREC) along with Oregon State University, University of Washington (Which I hope to visit in spring), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Uvic’s unique campus is encircled by a 4km ring, and it sits just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Cadboro bay.

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I also got the opportunity to explore some of Victoria and its innumerable (ok – 900) restaurants, shared amongst the roughly 80,000 inhabitants. There was some phenomenal food on offer! In the weekend that followed, I squeezed in a visit to Vancouver and had a brief stop in Seattle on the way back to Corvallis. I’ll leave you with some gratuitous footage and pictures of those!

O.H. Hinsdale Test Facility Visit

Pedro Lomonaco stands, Tony Stark-like, hands outstretched, on the precipice of the basin. A confident routine that’s the clear product of hundreds of exhibitions to students, researchers and prospective clients – but is none the worse for it today.

A signal is given and the paddles at the far end of the basin, some 50m away, groan to life, and with one shove send a veritable wall of water rushing towards us (not a tsunami, but a singular wave – Pedro tells us).

The first year business students whose tour group I had fallen in on, and who I would have until now described as “provisionally interested,” are suddenly rapt with attention as the water shores up and dumps itself onto the steel beach structure immediately behind Pedro. The sound it makes is LOUD, and reminiscent of the THX boom before the start of a movie. The water runs up the beach a distance that seems improbably large given the size of the wave, and begins to pour into the overflow drain which is mere centimeters behind Pedro’s stylish brown leather boots. He doesn’t even cast a glance behind him to check if he’s going to get wet. His team knows this equipment like the back of their hands. He points out that they can make bigger waves, but “It’s a pain to clean up”. A quick glance at the “Tsunami Evacuation Route” sign placed over the nearby exit shows that they take this in good spirits.

The students, now eager to see this demonstration again, are being made to wait. Producing waves this big automatically triggers the emergency stop system, and it’s going to take a few minutes to reboot. In the meantime, Pedro explains the purpose of the centre. They test all manner of coastal and offshore structures here; from groynes, jetties and breakwaters, to the floating offshore wind platform that’s undergoing testing right now, large ocean-going research vessels, right down to grass and sand.

Their revenue stream consists of roughly 40% Marine Renwable Energy testing, with the rest being made up from various other projects. A large proportion of their funding comes from National Science Foundation grants, one which allows Universities from all over the US to apply to use this unique facility. It’s become tradition for them to bring a flag when they first come to test, and you can see some of these pinned all around the walls of the wave basin.

 

The team in the control room gives the signal that they are ready to send another wave, and the students all pull the phones from their pockets. Another wave comes and rocks the beach just as powerfully as the first time. The students are visibly excited. “The wave basin is now Snapchat famous!”
Speaking with Pedro after the tour, he was keen to point out a number of interesting projects that will take place over the coming year, and I’m excited that I will be just 5 minutes away from dropping in to see these at any point.

Coolest take-away fact: Their flume can generate a Tsunami wave about 1.7 meters high, with a crest stretching back almost 20 meters. The water in the crest weighs about 6-7 tons and travels at 5.5m/s, making it the equivalent of a very large truck barreling down the center of the building at 40 mph and crashing into the beach at the end. THAT is one to see.

Day One!

Starting work at OSU

Today is my first day! Well.. ok, let me re-phrase that. It’s my first day at work. I arrived in Oregon just a little over 3 weeks ago now, and have spent the time exploring some of the beautiful sights to be found in Corvallis and beyond – The spectacular Crater Lake, a Volcano within a lake.. within a volcano, being a particular highlight and a view that I will not soon forget!

This being my first day on campus, it’s been a whirlwind of new faces, places and acronyms to remember. It’s heartening to see that the organisational structure of their research department here is just as bamboozling as back home!

So what is it that brings me half-way round the world; and has me leaving the small city of Cork for the even smaller city of Corvallis? I’m here as a Fulbright-Marine Institute student to undertake a research project on the application of Machine Learning techniques to Marine Renewable Energy for the next year. (If you just came for the pretty travel pictures and you’d like to bow out now, the link to my instagram is in the sidebar). Corvallis hosts Oregon State University, which boasts both a phenomenal Mechanical Engineering Department and Computer Science faculty, but is also home to the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Centre and the Pacific Marine Energy Test Centre –  making it the ideal confluence of technology and practical application in this field.

The aim of my research project for the upcoming year is to create a Machine Learning Model which enhances the accuracy, dependability and predictability of our wave resource, and utilises disparate datasets of wave buoy and wave model data to enable the best possible prediction of energy production for Marine Renewable Energy devices in a given climate.

It is something I’ve been working on as part of my PhD for almost two years now, and the Fulbright-Marine Institute award has given me the opportunity to focus solely on this in the upcoming year.

A large part of the reasoning for locating myself here has been to determine if the results of the modelling I have been doing will hold up as well in the Pacific as they have in the Atlantic. Arriving at Otter Rock to see thundering waves crash over the rocks, throwing huge plumes of water into the air, and witnessing the “Sneaker wave,” phenomenon first-hand has already shown that there are certainly going to be some diverse aspects of the local wave climate that will prove uniquely fascinating to study! One thing that is certain is that the impact of climate change, with these extreme conditions here being nestled amongst Storm Ophelia and Storm Brian back home, has never been more overt.

I am looking forward to blogging my time as a Fulbright Student as I know it’s going to provide me with a ton of interesting research and experiences to share. I strongly feel that the plain english dissemination of knowledge, and opening up interesting topics for broad discussion are a cornerstone of academia – ones that are all too often lost amidst the pressure to publish and the tendency to obfuscate! I hope this will provide a platform to educate people about my research and also an interesting and engaging depiction of what it means to be a Fulbrighter! I look forward to continuing to provide updates on what I’m doing, and I hope that you will enjoy following along.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of the highlights of my travels thus far.