2022 | 2023


A letter from the dean

Dear Friends,

Your generosity has an immeasurable impact on our students, faculty, and the Tufts community.

The School of Engineering is steadfastly keeping pace in our ever-evolving field, and we continue to foster diversity of background and thought in every aspect of our work and of our community. The Tufts Academic Support System for Engineering Learning and the Access for Computing Equity programs, both launched in 2022, offer funded summer learning opportunities to broaden the on-ramp for students.

Our distinguished faculty and exceptional students are stand-outs, recognized as Fulbright Scholars, listed on Forbes 30 Under 30, and consulted by national media on a wide range of environmental, scientific, and technological issues. In addition, our research initiatives have yielded real-world solutions ranging from improvements in tuberculosis treatment to the use of modified silk with nonstick properties in consumer and medical products.

It’s an exciting time at the School of Engineering, and we are welcoming a whole new generation of talented Jumbos. We recorded an increase in undergraduate applications of 55 percent over three years ago and experienced a robust graduate admissions cycle in the fall of 2023. For the eighth year in a row, our faculty set a new school record for research expenditures. Our advancement team achieved eight-figure philanthropic support for the sixth year in a row and closed the Brighter World campaign by raising more than $164 million to support the school’s mission-critical work, including $42 million designated for financial aid. The opening of Joyce Cummings Center has provided our students with cutting-edge facilities, and the new Auster Center for Applied Innovation Research will promote innovation in solving complex societal challenges through a transdisciplinary approach that spans social sciences, natural sciences, and technology for the public good.

The future of the School of Engineering, and Tufts, is brighter than ever. My sincere thanks for your belief in our important work.


of Dean Kyongbum Lee

Kyongbum Lee
Dean, Tufts School of Engineering, Karol Family Professor

Alumni and Students in the News

Dan Nguyen’s Clean Water Dream

This junior is focused on safe water, sanitation, and hygiene—keys to reducing infectious diseases worldwide

Dan Nguyen, A24, knows the weight of water. Since high school, he has been raising awareness that a quarter of the global population lacks access to safe drinking water. In his first year at Tufts, he co-founded Tufts Thirst Project, a club that has raised $4,000 for freshwater wells in Eswatini and South Sudan. Nguyen’s concern for the global water crisis guided him into community health classes, where he realized clean water was only the beginning: 1.4 million people die annually of diseases related to a combined lack of sanitation facilities, hygiene education, and safe water. Water, sanitation, and hygiene—so linked that they go by the handy acronym WASH—have become the moving target of Nguyen’s advocacy and research.

Dan Nguyen stands in front of a yellow backdrop. He uses his advocacy and research to improve global access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. Photo: Alonso Nichols

What first inspired your interest in improving water, sanitation, and hygiene worldwide?

My parents have been a huge inspiration for me. I’m the son of two Vietnamese immigrants who escaped post-war Vietnam. Their health care quality was poor, their tap water needed to be boiled and treated, and their loved ones suffered from infectious diseases, like malaria and tuberculosis, that are associated with poor water and sanitation. I realized WASH is not a right that is distributed equitably to everybody.

You co-founded Tufts Thirst Project. What was the impetus, and what has been most fulfilling?

I was an intern for Thirst Project, the national organization, during my first year at Tufts. My mission was to spread the word about the global water crisis. I talked to a lot of high school students throughout the U.S. But then I thought, “Why not bring this to my own institution?”

I co-founded Tufts Thirst Project with one of my closest friends, Shanni Zhou [A24]. The most fulfilling part was seeing how fast people my age can mobilize to take action and initiative on such a pressing issue.

Has your mission evolved over time?

Entering the global health field, I’ve always been concerned about saviorism—particularly American saviorism—and voluntourism, which is the idea that people go into a community to volunteer, and only they benefit. How do we make work that is sustainable, long-lasting, and culturally appropriate for the communities we’re involved in?

Asking this question has brought our club mission to a shifting point. We were very focused on clean water, but water, sanitation, and hygiene are interconnected. Together, they’re so important in reducing infectious diseases. So, we shifted to partnering with another organization called Water for South Sudan, which focuses on all three of those components. We liked that someone who grew up in South Sudan, and understood the needs firsthand, founded this NGO.

How did you get started doing research?

Sophomore year, I took a class with Professor Daniele Lantagne called Public Health Engineering, which was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. I reached out to her and was like, “Would I be able to join your research group?”

It’s been history since then. I’m working on some really cool projects on the effectiveness of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions in global health contexts. I co-authored this upcoming manuscript with an NGO called Catholic Relief Services on how NGOs integrate WASH and malnutrition interventions, because—through diseases like diarrhea—the two interventions are seemingly interconnected.

Where will this passion take you next?

I plan to pursue an MD/MPH in infectious disease, and I’ve actually been admitted to the Early Assurance Program at Tufts University School of Medicine. I want to integrate my interests in clinical care and global health advocacy, whether that’s in the NGO or intergovernmental sector. I want to combine both of those passions.

Dan Nguyen’s Clean Water Dream - Published originally on Tufts Now

Club Leaders Advance Diversity in Computer Science

Co-presidents of Tufts Black Students in Computer Science forge a supportive community with a technological edge

Tufts engineering sophomores Nasir Wynruit, E25, and Jahnea Potts, E25, are building a community among Black computer science students at Tufts—which they say not only supports their peers, but also helps make the field of computer science stronger.

Tufts students and computer science advocates Jahnea Potts and Nasir Wynruit Sophomores at the Tufts School of Engineering Jahnea Potts and Nasir Wynruit are club presidents with a vision: building a community among Black computer science students. Photo: Alonso Nichols

“Diversity is important in every field, but especially in STEM fields, where problem solving with one type of perspective really doesn't get you anywhere,” Wynruit said. “When you combine different diverse perspectives and different ways of thinking, you can arrive at a solution faster, and more efficiently.”

As co-presidents of Tufts Black Students in Computer Science (BSCS), Wynruit and Potts aim to increase the number of Black and Brown students studying computer science and related subjects at the university. With a current membership of about 70 students, the club offers support, encouragement, and inspiration. Since last fall they have welcomed 15 new members and put on six events relating to academic, social, and professional fields.

The club was founded in 2019. When Wynruit and Potts arrived at Tufts in the fall of 2021 after graduating from high schools in Westport, Connecticut, and Gahanna, Ohio, respectively, they joined club leadership: Wynruit became the club’s social media point person and Potts its treasurer.

By spring they stepped up to fill co-president vacancies, a willingness that speaks to their commitment and passion to advancing both club and university DEI priorities, said faculty advisor Trevion Henderson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

“Taking on any leadership position in college can be an enormous challenge,” he said. “Doing so as a first-year student is beyond impressive. What most impresses me about Jahnea and Nasir is that they unified framework for fostering the organization’s short- and long-term success. Their plans for fostering community amongst Black computer science students, for reaching out and connecting with Black computer science alumni, and for integrating BSCS into the larger Tufts engineering community, are a manifestation of their maturity, insight, and intellect, and suggest a promising future for BSCS.”

Wynruit, a double major in computer science and mathematics, and Potts, a computer science major, talked with Tufts Now about their pathways to computer science and their advocacy for underrepresented groups in the field.

Tufts Now: Why do you find makes a compelling message about computer science?

Nasir Wynruit: I describe computer science as unexpectedly creative. Computer science, as well as all STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] fields, has plenty of fun and exciting uses for creativity.

Jahnea Potts: Problem-solving is the cornerstone of computer science, and creativity is what makes problem-solving possible. To a student who might be on the fence about computer science, it’s valuable for them to understand that their keyboard can be an outlet for their creativity. The things they create can solve real-world problems, which is truly a beautiful thing.

How did your high school activities prepare you to step into a club leadership role at Tufts?

Wynruit: My club activity was with sound technology and theater, and it was a great experience. I was a rookie when I joined; I only knew that I liked theater and musicals. I went from having no knowledge of sound at all to being able to do sound design and sound effects. I couldn’t have done that if the club presidents hadn’t showed me the ropes and by doing that, they showed me what it meant to be a leader.

But I'm also passionate about the Black STEM community, so when I came to Tufts, I saw having a leadership position in a Black STEM club was a good fit. It enables me to connect with that community more than if I was only a member. I like organizing things that are connecting us with the community. I also gravitate toward advocacy because I just like helping people. An important part of being a student is just knowing how to help other students around you.

Potts: I was in a lot of leadership positions in high school; I was president of our math club and of code club, and I started a chapter of New Alpha Theta, which is a math honor society. My school was a K through 12 and I started math club in the middle school. So I wanted to continue that involvement at Tufts but I also wanted to do it with people who I identified with. I've been in PWIs [predominantly white institutions] for a lot of my life and at Tufts, the Black student population is about 4%. Being co-president gave me an opportunity to find my community and to be a leader in that community.

Black Students in Computer Science is rooted in the belief that “an encouraging, unified community with a technological edge can lead underrepresented students towards a successful future.” Have you felt isolated in your own journey, and how does feeling united help you advance your mission?

Potts: Coming from PWIs, the teachers I had and the people I looked up to were sweet to me; they really did shape who I am today. But sometimes it was also isolating to be the only Black girl in the class. There is nobody that you can really talk to who would actually understand your experiences, the good and the bad.

So I know how important it is just to be that person that people can go to and talk with. When we had our club fair and we were at our booth, a first-year student came up to us and said: “I wrote about this club in my application essay.” She was very excited to join and have a community that fit what she needed.

Wynruit: Creating unity is the center of our work; we can’t increase the Black STEM population by ourselves. We have a small population of Black students, but we do what we can to join together. We are finding and at the same time making our own community.

What are the positive messages you want to share about computer science? Are there misconceptions that you have to overcome?

Wynruit: We’re moving beyond the stigma around computer science as narrowly defined as coding. There are so many fields where you can use computer skills; you can basically do anything. Last semester I took a web design course and there was coding, but there were also a lot of style and design decisions to consider, a lot of artistic elements.

Potts: I think in terms of breaking down the walls to computer science. Speaking from my experience as a TA [teaching assistant], encouragement goes a long way. Encouraging people to think about their own solution to a problem is really important. As an example: I'm a TA [for Introduction to Computing for Engineering] and one of the first assignments is to write a poem following specific rules. The message: The creativity that is required to write the poem and to follow the rules is basically the same as when you're coding. Follow the rules and you can be as creative as you want to be.

Why is diversity important to computer science?

Wynruit: Diversity is important in every field, but especially in STEM fields, where problem solving with one type of perspective really doesn't get you anywhere. That’s why in a lot of jobs in STEM fields you will work collaboratively with people from very diverse backgrounds. When you combine different diverse perspectives and different ways of thinking, you can arrive at a solution faster, and more efficiently.

Potts: Diversity in technology is also important in areas like machine learning. Face recognition, for example, generally uses white faces. When the ID technology tries to recognize Black faces, sometimes it just won't see them at all. There is built-in bias unless we are more diverse and inclusive. Another example: In Introduction to Computing, we wanted to figure out the best places for voting stations to make sure that people have access to them, and we pulled demographic data from different communities. But the quality of that data may be questionable because it is not considering community factors that are important to voting, like public transportation. So when trying to identify where we should place voting stations, a diverse set of perspectives is needed to fully realize all related factors involved.

A lot of efforts aim to increase gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in STEM fields. Do you see the work you do with Black Students in Computer Science as a step toward closing such gaps?

Wynruit: We believe BSCS is connected to the larger narrative of diversity in the STEM workforce by supporting, inspiring, and empowering students from all parts of the African diaspora interested in computer science. We are here to support Black computer science students at all times, including when they apply to internships, research experiences, and jobs in technical fields.

Potts: Bloomberg Media recently reached out to partner with us with an opportunity to help students get ready for life after graduation. We hosted their Zoom presentation where they talked about what students need to do to prepare a successful resume and present themselves at a technical interview. It went well, and we have them in mind for future programming. So while a club like BSCS has a positive impact on Tufts students while they’re here, we are very aware that our work has implications in a much larger national context. We’re optimistic that, in time, STEM fields will better reflect the true diversity of the American population.

Club Leaders Advance Diversity in Computer Science - Published originally on Tufts Now

Teamwork Promotes Going Green in Research Labs

Graduate student Michael Saad and the Green Team he co-chairs are reducing waste, boosting recycling, and saving energy at Tufts’ SciTech building

Michael Saad, EG25, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering, is making Tufts lab research more eco-friendly as co-chair of the Green Team in the Science and Technology (SciTech) building on the Medford/Somerville campus. Among 10 active Green Teams across the university, the SciTech group is the first and only one solely focused on reducing the carbon footprint of labs.

Michael Saad Earth Advocate Illustration: Joel Kimmel

Laboratories are resource-intensive spaces, so adopting sustainable practices, including comprehensive recycling and energy-saving measures, makes a significant difference in their impact on the environment, Saad said. He’s a proponent of the international organization My Green Lab, which aims to create a “culture of sustainability” in labs developing medical and technical innovations around the globe.

“There are labs everywhere—from Europe to Asia to the Middle East—now focused on bringing sustainability into how they work,” said Saad, a 2016 graduate of Rice University. “It’s inspiring to be part of a larger effort focused on making this transition to green labs.”

That effort aligns with his graduate work on sustainable approaches to seafood under the direction of David Kaplan, the Stern Family Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. A renowned researcher in cellular agriculture, Kaplan is pushing the boundaries of tissue engineering into areas that include lab-grown meat, or cellular agriculture. It’s pathbreaking research that could reduce climate change by radically decreasing the amount of carbon associated with traditional livestock farms.

“One of the tenets of cellular agriculture is that it’s going to be environmentally friendly, yet our lab work in itself is not environmentally friendly” because of the waste it generates, said Saad. “I wanted to look at how I could make those two aspects of what I think are important—the science and sustainability practices—match.”

Translating a Green Ethos

Saad’s first job, a stint in tech consulting, got him thinking about a more personally rewarding career path–one that would likely involve food. “I grew up in a Lebanese household where food is super prominent, and I cooked a lot,” he said. “So I was interested in applying my bioengineering degree to food research.”

He found the right fit at Perfect Day Foods in California, a company cofounded by Ryan Pandya, E13, that uses microflora to produce animal-free dairy products. At Perfect Day, many employees biked to work. “Sustainability was always at the forefront” of the staff’s thinking, Saad said. “The ethos was there.”

When Saad arrived at Tufts, seeds of that ethos had already been planted within the SciTech community, a research base for some 130 students, faculty, and staff. But research laboratories have a significant environmental impact. Demands for water and electricity are high and scientists often rely on sterile, single-use plastics to protect their work from contamination.

More than a decade ago, Emily Edwards, laboratory coordinator for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, launched a recycling program for Styrofoam coolers, used in shipping and packaging to prevent breakage and keep some chemicals cold. That program continues to be “quite impressive,” said Saad. He also credits Bre Duffy, EG21, with important momentum; she secured SciTech’s first Green Fund award for a pilot program focused on recycling disposable nitrile gloves.

When Saad arrived, he saw room for expanding sustainable practices, so he put together a seven-member Tufts Green Team, a structure promoted by the Office of Sustainability for fostering collaboration and generating new ideas. Edwards, as co-chair, brought her knowledge of SciTech and her own dedication as a Tufts Eco-Ambassador. Joining them on the Green Team were graduate students Sara Rudolph, Sunny (Sawnaz) Shaidani, Olivia Foster, Sophie Letcher, Andrew Stout, John Yuen Jr., and Gwen Buchanan.

The SciTech Green Team’s first initiative was installing bins in lab spaces to collect plastic film. A second major step forward came in September 2021. The Office of Sustainability’s Green Labs initiative, launched in 2017 to encourage eco-friendly lab practices, expanded to include a partnership with GreenLabs Recycling, serving research facilities throughout Greater Boston.

On the Medford/Somerville campus, two main lab buildings—SciTech and the Science and Engineering Center (SEC)—signed on to recycle their lab plastics. At first, Saad personally trekked bags of recyclables from SciTech to the single collection bin at SEC. This past September, SciTech researchers welcomed their own collection bin for empty pipette tip boxes and other plastic items. “The SciTech community as a whole is now much more effective and efficient at plastic recycling,” Saad said.

Other programs the team launched include an effort, led by Yuen, to replace plastic filter bottles with glass bottles that can be cleaned and re-used inhouse. “John’s idea to order glass bottles that could be re-used after autoclave sterilization has really complemented our other recycling projects,” Saad said.

Onward with Energy Saving

The Green Team made its biggest single stride toward sustainability when it won a Green Fund award of $6,330 during the 2021-22 funding cycle, with a matching commitment from the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering. The award supported the purchase of a smaller alternative to a large-capacity autoclave, a standard lab workhorse that uses steam to sterilize equipment.

The large autoclave is an “energy hog,” Saad said, using 10 gallons of water and 8 Kilowatt hours during a routine 30-minute cycle and another 2 gallons of water and 3 Kilowatt hours for every idle hour. Comparatively, the smaller autoclave uses only 1.72 gallons through multiples cycles and about 1.15 Kilowatt hours during a 30-minute cycle. It does not use any additional water when not in use.

The compact new autoclave, ideal for small jobs, checks all the sustainability boxes, Saad said. It is more efficient, a sound investment with long-term benefits—it is projected to save about $3,200 annually in electricity and water costs—and, perhaps most importantly, “we hope that our two-autoclave model—one large, one small—will motivate other Tufts-affiliated labs to consider it as well,” he said.

A Team Effort

Shortly after Saad came to Tufts, he used the Somerville Facebook group called Everything is Free to secure enough cutlery to furnish the SciTeh kitchen for free. It is now set up with non-plastic utensils, including bowls and cutlery.

But he credits the Green Team for accomplishing broader initiatives. “I wrote and submitted the Green Fund proposal, but five of us were involved in the process,” he said. “That’s probably the one thing that I'm most proud of here, because it was a group effort.”

He said his top tip for making a difference in the workplace is to start by finding others who are also passionate about sustainability and green practices. Then, he added, provide avenues for people to be more sustainable. “Recycling programs…go a long way in helping people follow through on their desire to be more sustainable.”

Teamwork Promotes Going Green in Research Labs - Published originally on Tufts Now

Designing a Circular Economy

Gülin Ölçer, MSIM17, develops systems that circulate products—or make them differently from the start—to reduce their environmental impact

Gülin Ölçer, EG17, is reimagining Dubai’s food system with circular economy principles—an economy that eliminates waste by reusing or repurposing products, rather than disposing of them—through her work as a head of sustainability portfolio at ATÖLYE, a Dubai-based strategic design consultancy firm. New business and service models that keep products—be they food, cars or t-shirts—out of the recycling stream or landfill are urgently needed, she says. Designing for such sustainability depends on a “different kind of thinking about one’s responsibility for the future of a planet that is clearly in crisis. It’s time that people realize they can take action.”

Earth Advocate Gulin Olcer Gülin Ölçer, who earned a master's in innovation and management at the School of Engineering's Gordon Institute, is advancing the principles of a circular economy in Dubai. Illustration: Joel Kimmel

A native of Turkey with a background in psychology and business, Ölçer followed her entrepreneurial calling to Tufts, where she earned a master’s in innovation and management at the School of Engineering’s Gordon Institute. After Tufts, she founded ZERO, the first design studio in Turkey to be focused on circular design, then joined the new age design firm based in Istanbul, ATÖLYE to create larger impact with her work. She’s been leading strategy and sustainability practices at ATÖLYE since 2019.

Pivot Point

Ölçer vividly remembers when her climate change light bulb went off. She was a student at Tufts, watching “The True Cost,” a documentary about the clothing industry’s harmful effects on the environment and labor conditions, as illustrated by such catastrophes as the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh. “It changed my life,” she says. “From that point on I knew: ‘I'm going to make this the focus of my career.’” She also changed her shopping habits. “I try not to buy clothing or major appliances firsthand,” she says. “It’s another way I can direct my choices to support my values.”

Waste Not

The circular economy model challenges a pervasive attitude that more is better. “We live in a world that is systemically telling us to buy more,” says Ölçer. “We are used to products being consumed, used, and discarded, and then we buy all over again. It could be your car, your washing machine, your sweater, a plastic cup. Once you are done with that product, then it is considered used up. What you are doing, though, is wasting all those resources that went into making that product.”

In contrast, the circular economy model considers all the steps in the supply chain of a product: how it is sourced, produced, distributed, and used, and what is done after it is used, she says. “We close the loop.”

Sustainable Thinking

Ölçer acknowledges that the nascent circular economy won’t gain traction quickly in countries where traditional manufacturing processes and throw-away consumer habits are entrenched. In the modern, fast-paced city of Dubai, however, “we’re generating a lot of innovation in terms of materials, business models, and funding,” she says. “It is exciting to be here now because such a young and ambitious nation presents opportunities to completely disrupt conventional thinking.”

One project she recently worked on is evaluating the interlocking parts of Dubai’s food system, including what is imported or locally produced, how food is distributed, and how hotels, restaurants, cafes, and households use and dispose of food. “The roadmap that we proposed includes initiatives such as engaging food recovery startups to repurpose edible food from hotels and restaurants to be shared with communities in need, introducing dynamic pricing in supermarkets that will reduce price of food as best before date approaches, and measuring food waste data across the value chain to identify hotspots that will guide circularity efforts further” she says. “Our goal is that 98% of Dubai will be participating in waste reduction programs by 2040.”

Incremental Change

Ölçer is optimistic that change will emerge, even if it is imperfect and incremental. “There has to be radical change if the countries live up to their carbon-neutral pledges,” she says. “There is definitely a movement coming.” She feels lucky to be part of the effort to develop sustainable solutions. “Working in design, you create something tangible” she says. “You put a prototype out there. You test it, you see how it works, and then you create something better.”

Designing a Circular Economy - Published originally on Tufts Now

Celtics Dancer and Biomedical Engineering Student Strikes Balance On, Off Court

Kirsten Trinidad, EG26, is working to understand the sustainability of lab-grown meat during the day, and entertaining thousands as a Celtics Dancer at night

Kirsten Trinidad, EG26, always has her head in the game—but depending on the time of day, the game could be taking place on a basketball court or in a Tufts School of Engineering laboratory.

Kirsten Trinidad wears a Celtics Dancer uniform and holds green pom-poms while standing on the court at TD Garden. Photo: Kavon Morgan

Trinidad is a doctoral candidate in Biomedical Engineering and her primary focus is on her 9-to-5 role, working on the scale up of cultured meat as well as life cycle assessments to understand its environmental impacts, she said. The treat waiting for her at the end of the day is another professional commitment entirely: entertaining thousands as a member of the Boston Celtics Dancers.

“Dance to me has always been so cathartic and such a great way to relieve stress,” Trinidad said. “So, it's almost like a reward system to me. I like to compartmentalize my two jobs and only focus on one at a time.”

“In the lab we were given superlatives, and the one I received was most likely to live a double life,” Trinidad said, laughing.

To be successful in both her creative pursuits and her STEM career, Trinidad said she’s developed different personas—and although they’re different, they’re also complementary.

“The skillsets are so different,” Trinidad said. “But the discipline that I learned from school also applies to dance. And the creativity from dance can also apply to school, especially in a Ph.D. program where we're essentially forced to think about our own research ideas and creative solutions to problems we see. So, yes, I have two different personas, but they complement each other very well.”

Right now, Trinidad is working harder than ever to balance those personas and her commitments to her scholarship and dance career.

After reaching the 2022 NBA Finals before ultimately being taken down by the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics are back in postseason play, this year as a No. 2 seed. With 2023 NBA Playoffs games starting later and sometimes lasting longer, Trinidad is putting in extra hours for games and for practices—but the hard work is all worth it, she said.

Building Discipline

Trinidad grew up in New Jersey, where she found joy in dance from a young age. After initially giving up on the art as a toddler, her older sister convinced her to return to the studio in elementary school and it became a major part of her life from there on.

When she wasn’t dancing, though, Trinidad was focused on devouring information in the STEM fields, similar to how she structures her schedule now. That interest led her to Rutgers University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and packaging engineering.

It was during her time at Rutgers that she realized how much her academic commitments could help her succeed on the Rutgers dance team, and vice versa.

“I think I'm able to balance my life now because of Rutgers,” Trinidad said. “Competition dancing at the college level requires constant gym sessions and practices two to three times a week outside of football and basketball gameday commitments. That helped me learn how to balance everything because both are time consuming.”

After graduating from Rutgers, Trinidad continued to hone her two personas, spending days working as a packaging engineer at cosmetic companies in Manhattan. When it made sense for her schedule and her career, she would squeeze in professional dance tryouts she was sent by her talent agency.

“Dance has always been a supplement to my life,” Trinidad said. “It's never been 100% my personality. I've always loved science, so when I signed with my former talent agency, I would go to an audition if it fit my timeline. Rejection with an audition in New York City is so high and so my priority was always on my professional career.”

Finding a New Path

Trinidad’s dedication to her professional career is how she stumbled across the concept of cultured meat, which opened her eyes to a potential new career path.

“When I got my bachelor’s degree, graduate school was never in the cards for me,” Trinidad remembered. But that was before she delved into the ways in which industries outside of cosmetics and beauty were working to make their products more sustainable.

“Cosmetic packaging generates a lot of waste. There were ongoing initiatives to make packaging more sustainable and I was curious how we could quantify or benchmark sustainability efforts,” Trinidad remembered. “So, I spent a lot of time outside work reading papers and academic journals about how people do it in other disciplines, which really inspired me.”

In the course of her research, Trinidad found a paper about life cycle assessment, which is a sustainability methodology that’s often used in cellular agriculture, specifically cultured meat.

That spark led her to read more and learn about other potential impacts of lab-grown meat, like animal welfare and health benefits. She was so fascinated by the topic, she reached out to David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts, as well as Natalie Rubio, EG22, a recent alum of the Kaplan Lab, both among the first proponents of the field, to learn more.

Around the same time, she took a Tufts course in cultured meat online, and that experience confirmed what she already knew: she wanted to get into the lab.

Kirsten Trinidad wears a white lab coat and smiles while working in the lab. Kirsten Trinidad, EG26, wears a big smile while working in the lab at Tufts University School of Engineering. Photo: Chettar Hoff

Now close to two years into her program, Trinidad is working in the Kaplan Lab, on the topic which originally piqued her interest: lifecycle assessment (LCA), which takes a holistic look at the process of creating cultured meat to quantify its environmental impacts.

“I feel like a lot of projects are focused on one aspect of an entire process, but LCAs are neat because they consider every single part of a cultured meat system. It's allowed me to learn about all aspects of creating meat in a lab,” Trinidad said. “It's also really cool because I can apply my findings from my other in-lab scale up projects to construct an experimentally-sound study.”

With that knowledge, Trinidad works as the student club lead for the USDA National Institute for Cellular Agriculture at Tufts University, educating other college students about the benefits and impacts of cultured meat. Tufts was one of several schools to receive a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2021 to establish the institute.

“My role helps work toward the institute’s education goal to reach out to as many students as possible and let them know about cultured meat and immerse them into the science in a very transparent and communicable way,” Trinidad said. “Science can be so daunting, so the whole goal of the student club is to get students from all different universities to make cell-ag less scary.”

Looking to the Future

Trinidad is wrapping up her first year with the Celtics. She looks forward to trying out for another season this summer, and potentially getting to experience veteran life on the team.

As a lifelong dancer, Trinidad is particularly proud to be a part of the Celtics Dancers, which is creating equity and space for dancers of all genders on its roster. There are three men on the team this season, which has meant updating routines and dances to include them.

“Because of how the professional dance world is changing with the emphasis on inclusivity of men, we sometimes have to change our choreography to be fitting for all genders,” Trinidad said. “Which I think is really cool because it shows that we're versatile and can adapt well. It brings a different kind of energy to the dances because I think everyone, gender regardless, has something unique to give.”

Trinidad also feels empowered as a woman on the team, knowing that she is there for the benefit of everyone in the audience.

“We’re there to entertain, but we’re not there for the sole entertainment of men,” Trinidad said.

The confidence she finds on the court has also helped her in academic pursuits as well. The discipline that Trinidad has honed has sparked her next goal in the lab. Once she completes her work in LCA, Trinidad hopes to spend the second half of her Ph.D. exploring the nutritional aspects of cultured meat.

“Because diet has been such a big part of my life with dance, nutrition would be a cool integration of both of my passions into my scientific work,” Trinidad said. “Without going into too much scientific detail, red meat has a bad reputation because it's correlated to higher incidence of colorectal cancer and atherosclerosis. So, what I want to figure out is if it’s possible to ameliorate or negate the negative effects of red meat in the lab. These pathologies are something in which I'm really interested.”

Celtics Dancer and Biomedical Engineering Student Strikes Balance On, Off Court - Published originally on Tufts Now

Engineering the cleanest mines possible

At the 10th School of Engineering Dean’s Lecture, Chairman of Hochschild Mining Eduardo Hochschild, E87, spoke about his company’s efforts to reduce mining’s impact on the Earth.

The industries that have some of the largest impacts on the planet also have the power to make the most significant gains in sustainability. At the 10th School of Engineering Dean’s Lecture on February 24, members of the Tufts community gathered in Joyce Cummings Center to hear insights about corporate responsibility and sustainability from the Chairman of the Hochschild Mining Group, Tufts alumnus Eduardo Hochschild, E87. The Dean’s Lecture provides a regular opportunity for Dean of the School of Engineering and Karol Family Professor Kyongbum Lee to welcome esteemed speakers at the top of their respective fields. In his lecture, Hochschild showcased extensive efforts to engineer sustainable mines and cement production while balancing the needs of his company and local communities.

Chairman of the Hochschild Mining Group Eduardo Hochschild delivers the 10th Dean's Lecture.

Mined materials are present in nearly every aspect of our daily lives, from large structures such as bridges and buildings to small screws and materials in phone batteries. “We cannot make a world without mining, but we can make a better mine,” said Hochschild. To this end, his group has engineered circular mineral harvesting, a unique method of mining rare earth materials that reduces the impact of extraction on the natural environment. The method will be implemented at Aclara, a new mine in Chile that is part of the Hochschild Group and is scheduled to open within the next two years.

The system utilizes approximately 90% recycled water from local sources during the mining process. Once miners extract the rare earth materials, they backfill what they don’t need, returning roughly 30% of what they extracted to the Earth. Circular mineral harvesting cannot yet be done with more common metals such as copper or silver, but it is possible with the rare earth materials that the Aclara mine will extract. These rare earth materials are critical for developing sustainable infrastructure, including wind turbines and electric cars.

Likewise, Hochschild aims to balance community needs, sustainability, and effective products in the cement industry. Cement production is one of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As the director of cement company Cementos Pacasmayo, Hochschild’s cement has reduced emissions significantly while ensuring that cement remains affordable for people in local communities to build their homes. Reflecting on the efforts made to move mining and cement production in a more sustainable direction, Hochschild noted, “There are things you can do in the old industries that are good for humanity.”

In keeping with the desire to create a brighter world, the Hochschild Group provides employment and education for members of the surrounding communities. In 2011 Hochschild established the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), which offers programs in engineering, technology, and administration and digital business. 30% of the students at UTEC are supported with scholarships or financial aid which allow them to access top-class education and connections with universities in the United States. The campus features state-of-the-art labs, research centers, and a LEED certified building, demonstrating a continued commitment to sustainability.

As a Tufts alum himself, Hochschild referenced the impact that his own education has had on his career. He credited Tufts with sharpening his ability to logically understand problems and find solutions. While sharing that balancing the needs of the community, the environment, and the company can be challenging at times, he reflected that, since its establishment in 1911, the Hochschild Mining Group has sought to work collaboratively and carefully achieve the best solutions.

The mining industry is constantly evolving as more easily accessible deposits become depleted, and the industry must adapt with new technologies. Hochschild concluded his lecture by covering some of the research and development currently in progress to continue improving the industry, including AI mineral recognition and a mining robot. According to Hochschild, “Even those old industries have a lot to offer and a lot of innovation is yet to come."

Engineering the cleanest mines possible - Published originally on the School of Engineering website

Faculty News

Top: Eight photos of elephants in daylight and nighttime with blue lines around individual elephants. Using artificial intelligence and drones, Tufts engineers and conservationists are helping track and protect wild elephants in East Africa, Bottom: Obafemi Jinadu and Karen Panetta. “The current approach for elephants now is quite invasive,” says Obafemi Jinadu, here with Karen Panetta. “We’re trying to track migration patterns with a very non-invasive approach.” Portrait: Alonso Nichols. Images: Courtesy of Karen Panetta and Obafemi Jinadu.

New AI-Powered Drone Technology Aids Elephant Conservation

Tufts engineers and conservationists are helping track and protect wild elephants in East Africa

If you want to track an elephant in the wild, it’s not easy. Traditionally, you have to attach a radio collar to it, which might interfere with the elephant’s natural movements.

Now School of Engineering Professor Karen Panetta is developing drones equipped with a novel artificial intelligence system to track elephants in their natural habitat—and is already deploying them in the field in East Africa. As she and her students continue to develop AI for the project, she hopes the technology will allow conservationists to collect high-quality data that they can use to make wildlife management decisions.

Panetta says her Visualization, Sensing, and Simulation Lab creates “artificial intelligence engines” that are then installed into various machines, including drones. Her lab has been working for years on using drones to aid in disaster recovery, assessing damage from the sky.

She was approached about four years ago by members of the Tufts Elephant Conservation Alliance, who asked if the drones could be used to aid wildlife conservation. Intrigued by the opportunity to expand the uses of her research, Panetta jumped at the idea.

Panetta and her team developed an AI-equipped drone that recognizes individual elephants from images, even when those images are dark, seen from afar, or otherwise difficult for conservationists to use effectively. Knowing where specific elephants are can help wildlife conservationists determine ideal habitats and keep animals safe from interactions with humans, which can be deadly.

Since elephants frequently travel at night, the AI is trained to identify elephants with thermal imaging—a method that detects elephants’ body heat. Obafemi Jinadu, a second-year doctoral student in Panetta’s lab, says the team has had “huge success” identifying elephants in crowded images and in the dark.

The lab’s technology can also collect data on individual elephant health, by identifying skin infections, changes in elephants’ size, or altered behavior. For example, when an elephant is upset or stressed, it may raise its ears, which could be a helpful data point for conservationists monitoring the animals, according to Jinadu. “We try to get as much information as we can from the animal’s body language,” he says.

The drones might also deter poaching, Panetta says, because poachers will recognize drones as signs of human presence, and hopefully avoid the area.

Panetta says drone tracking is more humane for the elephants than other strategies, like attaching radio collars, which can interfere with the elephant’s natural behaviors. “The current approach for elephants now is quite invasive,” Jinadu says. “We’re trying to track migration patterns with a very non-invasive approach.”

“Our approach from the beginning was saying that whatever we do, we cannot alter the elephants physically,” Panetta says. “That was really important.”

Part of that non-invasive approach includes identifying elephants on a first-name basis from afar, an aspect of the AI that Jinadu is working to improve. All elephants, he says, look quite similar, especially since they’re free from markings, like stripes or spots, which help conservationists identify individuals from other mammal species. Right now, only people who have worked directly with specific elephants know them well enough to differentiate them.

Jinadu is hoping to change that by identifying the characteristics—like tears in ears, head size, and tusk shape and orientation, among others—that differ between individual elephants, they can use that information to train the AI to match those characteristics to elephant names.

“It’s a tricky task,” he says, and current monitoring technology has only about a 56% success rate. “But we’re positive we can do way better than that.”

Panetta’s drones are already used by conservationists at the Masai Mara National Reserve, a protected elephant habitat in southwest Kenya, where tens of thousands of elephants roam.

The team hopes that the technology they’ve developed could start to be used for conservation of other species, as well. For example, Panetta says that the AI could be particularly suited to track rhinoceroses. Additionally, the team has been collaborating with Allen Rutberg, a research associate professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, to determine how to adapt the technology for white-tailed deer conservation, since manually tagging white-tailed deer is labor-intensive and can be dangerous.

To Panetta, the possible applications of AI are limitless for helping humans and animals prepare for the unexpected—like a band of poachers or a change in elephant migration patterns. “There are so many different scenarios that we as humans can’t even begin to create experiments for,” she says. “AI allows us to do that.”

New AI-Powered Drone Technology Aids Elephant Conservation - Published originally on Tufts Now

A cable-laying vessel lays cable at sea in a wind farm A cable-laying vessel lays cable for an offshore wind farm. Photo: Shutterstock

Offshore Wind Power’s Last Mile

Tufts School of Engineering faculty and students are working to overcome the challenges—technological, environmental, and political—associated with the “New Deal” infrastructure project of the century

Offshore wind power has the potential to provide all the electrical power needed by the Northeast with thousands of extremely large wind turbines located offshore. But one of the biggest hurdles to creating that reality is getting the wind power from offshore generation points to the power grid on land.

Overcoming those hurdles is both an engineering and a political challenge. And Tufts students and faculty are in the midst of efforts to solve both. Their work has the potential to generate thousands of new jobs and fuel a massive infrastructure effort not seen since the New Deal in the 1930s.

Tufts Now recently spoke with Eric Hines to get a better understanding of those “last mile” engineering and political challenges. Hines is Professor of the Practice and Tsutsumi Faculty Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering.

How important is wind power overall in the U.S. right now?

In 2021, utility scale wind and solar power from large-scale farms provided approximately 12 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. That’s an amount dwarfed by fossil fuels, which account for approximately 60 percent of total U.S. electricity production—with nuclear, hydroelectric power, and other renewables being the other major sources.

We have heard a lot about offshore wind farms in New England. Why build them there? And what companies are involved?

Consistent winds and shallow federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf make New England and the Mid-Atlantic among the best places to build offshore wind farms in the U.S. While Iowa, Texas, and Oklahoma also offer ideal locations for generating land-based wind energy, state decision-makers on the East Coast have been attracted to our offshore wind resource because it is so close to our major coastal cities.

Thus far, the Europeans have invested a lot more than the U.S. in developing offshore wind technology. Currently, it is predominantly companies from Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, and Portugal that are obtaining leases from the U.S. federal government to create wind farms off the coast of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.

Is wind power more costly?

While there is a lot of infrastructure involved, ultimately, the average price of offshore wind power contracted for purchase to date is comparable to average wholesale electricity prices from fossil fuels in New England in 2022.

Are wind farms more effective as an energy resource than solar panels?

From our perspective, solar energy and wind energy are complementary renewable energy sources. Neither solar nor wind energy alone can do the job. We need both.

In order to understand offshore wind, one has to consider scale. A single wind turbine is taller than Boston’s Prudential Tower. Approximately 1000 of these mammoth offshore wind turbines operating at 100 percent capacity could generate all the power New England needs. Renewables such as solar and wind operate, however, at approximately 25 to 50 percent capacity due to the natural variations in resource availability. Solar is on the lower end of this capacity spectrum and offshore wind is on the higher end.

Electricity demands fluctuate daily and seasonally, and a few times per year peak demands can reach more than twice the typical daily demand. Furthermore, to cut CO2 emissions, we must transition our energy sector to an electricity-based system where we generate our electricity with renewables. Assuming a 100 percent increase in electricity demand between now and 2050 and a 50 percent capacity factor, approximately 4000 offshore wind turbines plus well-designed storage could meet New England’s energy needs in 2050.

By comparison, to generate a similar amount of energy, you would need solar panels blanketing every home as well as miles and miles of open land. Large office buildings in downtown Boston or Manhattan couldn’t build enough onsite solar panels to supply their energy needs.

Getting all the power generated by wind turbines into the on-land power grid is a huge challenge, isn’t it?

Currently, each offshore wind project is seeking its own unique connection to our existing land-based grid via a point of interconnection. This is complicated by the fact that offshore wind lease areas are awarded by the federal government and power purchase agreements are awarded by individual states. This rapidly evolving and complicated regulatory system has led, for example, to more than one company developing plans to provide energy to New York from wind farms off the Massachusetts coast.

There is ongoing work in several states and at the federal level to develop long-range plans that can avoid 200 or 300 different cables landing on our sensitive coastlines from different points offshore—it’s the equivalent of a hodgepodge of extension cords.

If you build an addition to a house, you could supply all the energy through a bunch of extension cords from your old house into the addition. But instead, you hire an electrician and build a system that will be durable, efficient, and safe. We need to have the same approach to building our renewable energy supply with offshore wind power.

If, as a society, we do this right, we have the potential to simultaneously save the planet, create healthier communities, and create tens or even hundreds of thousands of new, high-paying jobs.

What are the biggest challenges?

This is where both political will and engineering come into play. The best solution would be to construct hardened and resilient tunnels, with really high-quality cables, and limit the number of on-land locations. But to do that, we need to break a traditional New England engineering practice: Never plug more than 1.2 gigs from a single source into the power grid.

The engineering challenge—and it’s a big one—is: Can we design a system where we can plug more into one location in such a way that we don’t short-circuit the country.

This extraordinarily complex issue requires engineers to think differently and to change the design of electricity substations by up to a 10-fold magnitude. Fortunately for us, there is much we can learn from Europe. In the North Sea, this concept of concentrating large amounts of power, including storage production via green hydrogen, has become known as “energy islands.”

And then there is the challenge of political will. It will be critical for federal, state, and regional public entities as well as the private sector to work directly with the coastal communities who host these connectors. These communities should see significant economic investment, lots of jobs, the removal and cleanup of dirty power plants, and the restoration of wetlands.

The cables will be underground when they come on shore. You won’t see anything, and these massive cables can be designed to land in sensitive coastal areas in ways that are safe and environmentally responsible. Once we do this, the resulting energy will be far cleaner. It will improve air quality, making a major dent in health problems like asthma. Thousands of jobs will be created both to build the tunnels and the plants and then also to maintain and run them.

How is Tufts helping to solve these dual challenges?

At Tufts, we are collaborating with colleagues at Iowa State, Clemson, the National Renewable Energy Lab, the Pacific Northwest National Lab, and groups in the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, and Demark to reinvent power systems for the energy transition. We are developing next-generation power systems education to handle both the technological challenges as well as the environmental and political challenges. Much of our scholarship is geared to help states and municipalities think effectively about how to develop offshore wind power and what the pluses and minuses will be depending on how they do it.

We are giving our students a front-row seat to the development of this new field. Our engineering students are acquiring the skills to make a quantum leap in power plant and electric cable technology. Students and faculty are exploring ways to address the environmental questions posed by bringing all that power generated offshore to the power grid without damaging our valuable coastal waters. And of course, we are educating our students about the many ways communities needed to be involved in the planning process so they can participate in the planning of these landing points.

Infrastructure is one of those things that we tend to take for granted. Much of our infrastructure built in the early and mid-20th century has lasted for decades and now is in need of repair. Our energy infrastructure is similar. To stop global warming, it needs to be reimagined and replaced—not only in the U.S. but world-wide. If we can meet this moment and to do it right in our own backyard, we’ll have an opportunity to use what we have learned to help save the world.

Offshore Wind Power’s Last Mile - Published originally on Tufts Now

Greses Perez, McDonnell Family Assistant Professor of Engineering Education “If we look at language, culture, race, and ethnicity in respect to who becomes an engineer,” Greses Pérez said, “we can begin to rethink how we teach and learn the subject—and open ourselves up to new concepts, designs, and ideas about who can be an engineer.” Photo: Alonso Nichols

What Does an Engineer Sound Like?

Greses Pérez draws upon her research into the intersection of language and learning and her experiences as a woman in STEM to help open up the field of engineering

When Greses Pérez started out as a teacher, working mainly with students of color in Title I elementary schools, she was alarmed to see many of her students missing out on opportunities to engage in STEM topics.

“The population I taught was made up of Latinx, Black, and Indigenous students, many of whom were bilingual,” she explained. “They were perceived by some teachers and school administrators as not speaking the right way and therefore lacking the competencies they needed to be successful. My students, most of whom were born in and raised in the United States, received extra language support—but then there wasn’t time in their schedules for them to learn science and engineering.”

Pérez’s students yearned for exposure to those subjects, however. “They would ask me if they could come in on the weekends and do engineering and science,” she said.

Now the McDonnell Family assistant professor of engineering education at Tufts School of Engineering, Pérez recognized her students’ interest, enthusiasm, and capacity to learn and began to explore nontraditional modes of teaching them. One time, for example, she translated an English-language U.S. Department of Agriculture soil classification chart into Spanglish and added pictures to make it more accessible.

“The students followed along, learning exactly what they needed to learn,” she explained. “They were connecting ideas with meaningful implications for their communities, engaging with the material, and getting really excited about the subject.”

Moments such as that one led Pérez to her current field of research, focusing on the interdisciplinary study of language and cognition for students who experience a cultural and linguistic mismatch between the practices of their communities and those in engineering and science.

“I look at virtual and physical learning environments and consider the role of language and culture in facilitating learning,” she explained. “How can we invite people to bring their background into whatever they are learning? And into engineering and science? How can we expand the ways we communicate in science and engineering—and the ways we value and legitimize communicative practices?”

Her interests in such questions emerge partly from her own experiences and her professional background. When she worked in civil and environmental engineering, Pérez was aware that, as a Spanish-speaking Black Latina, she didn’t fit the traditional image others have of an engineer.

It was difficult enough being a woman in a field that largely lacks female and minority representation—and, in particular, women leaders—but the way she spoke also seemed to play a role, she said. Pérez observed people hearing her speak and automatically drawing conclusions about her competencies—whatever those conclusions were.

“If we look at language, culture, race, and ethnicity in respect to who becomes an engineer… [we] open ourselves up to new concepts, designs, and ideas about who can be an engineer.”
— Greses Pérez —

A Connection Shared with Students

Having been born in the Dominican Republic, raised partly there and partly in New York City, and studied at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, Pérez noted that people frequently judge her for the ways in which she speaks. “If I am in the Dominican community, I don’t sound Dominican enough. If I’m in the U.S., I don’t sound American enough. At engineering school, my training was in Spanglish, and I’m sure there are some people who think I don’t sound enough like an engineer.”

Of her eventual decision to become a teacher and pursue a Ph.D. in science education, she recalled that “no one could understand how I could leave a profession that people perceive as being more profitable and more prestigious to become a teacher.” But in the career change, she found a shared connection with her students.

“I could see that they knew a lot and were just being misread or misinterpreted, or that people did not want to see their brilliance, or that people thought the students needed to reach some kind of imaginary standard of language and cultural competence before they could learn engineering and science,” she said.

At the School of Engineering, Pérez brings together her personal experiences, her engineering expertise, and her training as a science educator, teaching both graduate and undergraduate students.

In her course about how language, culture, and race shape what it means to be an engineer, for example, instead of asking her students to create something new for her class, she asked them to consider language, culture, and race in the context of projects they were working on for other courses. A Latina student, Leslie Jaramillo Martinez, E23, was inspired to turn to her grandfather, who had built homemade machines to distribute seeds in soil, basing his work on generations of family experience in the United States as farmworkers and in Mexico.

Jaramillo Martinez developed a proposal for the design of a culturally sustaining machine, drawing upon her predecessors’ knowledge and aiming to make seed distribution more cost-efficient and accessible for agricultural communities with limited access to resources.

“If we look at language, culture, race, and ethnicity in respect to who becomes an engineer,” Pérez said, “and we reimagine what ways of knowing and speaking are valued in engineering, we can begin to rethink how we teach and learn the subject—and open ourselves up to new concepts, designs, and ideas about who can be an engineer.”

What Does an Engineer Sound Like? - Published originally on Tufts Now

Ethan Danahy and Robert Gonsalves sitting together at a restaurant. “I find myself inspired by and taking so many lessons from my time learning from and working with Bob, and applying all of that to my own teaching,” says Ethan Danahy, left, of his time with Robert Gonsalves, right.

He Brought Space Telescope Images into Focus

Professor Emeritus Bob Gonsalves, E56, who created algorithms that help the Hubble and Webb telescopes take sharper images, continues to inspire his former students

When the Hubble Space Telescope launched in April 1990, it was a miracle of engineering, the best telescope ever built, stationed 332 miles in space above Earth. But soon astronomers at NASA realized there was a problem: The focus was off because the main mirror had been ground just a hair too fine—about 1/50th of the width of a human hair too fine, in fact.

NASA announced this on July 2, 1990. The same day, Bob Gonsalves, E56, then a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts, got a call from the space agency. It was convening a panel of experts to find a fix and wanted him to join.

“I was on vacation at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina but cut it short to make the July 5 meeting in Washington,” says Gonsalves, now retired after teaching for more than 30 years at Tufts.

NASA had called the right engineer. Back in 1976, he had published a paper on what’s called phase retrieval, about how a specific algorithm could be used to correct distorted images. “Phase retrieval is the very last step to make sure that everything is tuned up sharp as can be. It’s sort of like autofocus on a camera,” Gonsalves says. Fast forward to 1990, and “it gave a prescription to fix what was wrong in the telescope.”

Gonsalves also came up with an algorithm dealing with what’s called phase diversity, for further image refinement. Pairing the two algorithms, he helped solve the problem of out-of-focus images on Hubble. “Without these corrective improvements, images would always be blurred,” he says.

Along with colleagues and students, Gonsalves helped with the design of the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement for Hubble, “a 3' by 3' by 8' miracle of optical engineering to insert the correcting lens,” he says. In 1993, astronauts made the repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope—essentially adding a lens to cover the camera—and all of a sudden, shots of stars and nebula that had been fuzzy and distorted became crisp and clear.

“Analyzing the problem and developing an optical correction was a masterpiece of optical engineering,” according to a history of Hubble by the European Space Agency.

But Gonsalves’ accomplishment didn’t end with Hubble. His technology for corrective optics is now employed in the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in late December 2021. Webb is now stationed a million miles from Earth. Its first images were released in July 2022 to worldwide acclaim and its scientific work has been breaking new ground ever since.

That’s something that Gonsalves is especially proud of. “I have a personal connection to that telescope,” he says. Beginning in 2008 he was invited to a series of meetings at Ball Aerospace, which was designing and then building the advanced optical technology and mirror system going in Webb.

“The NASA-funded team was studying phase retrieval and phase diversity as the last steps in commissioning the 18 hexagonal elements of the mirror,” he reports. He helped the scientists write algorithms and prepare reports for NASA on this extraordinarily complex multi-decade project.

In other words, any time you see the astounding images from far outer space these days, you can thank Gonsalves in part for their clarity.

Applying Lessons in the Classroom

Having a hand in these space telescopes has been a highlight of Gonsalves’ career, but he’s equally proud of having taught for some 50 years—about 10,000 students, he reckons.

After graduating from Tufts on an NROTC scholarship, Gonsalves served in the Navy, then worked in industry. But he returned to school and earned a Ph.D. from Northeastern University, where he taught engineering for 20 years. Then he received the offer he really wanted: to come back to teach at Tufts. “My goal was always to go back to Tufts,” he says.

He taught at Tufts for some three decades. He served as department chair for two years before officially retiring, and continued to teach courses at the university even after formally stepping down. While still on the faculty, he also founded and ran a digital imaging company, Lexitek.

He also had an active research career—he published 170 papers, and one paper about telescope imaging has averaged 40 references per year for the past 10 years, pretty good for research from 1982.

Gonsalves inspired many students, among them one who went on to become a professor of engineering at Tufts. “He was my first engineering professor during my first undergraduate semester,” says Ethan Danahy, E00, EG02, and EG07, a research associate professor in the School of Engineering.

“To think, as an 18-year-old starting out, I was taking an image processing course from the person who did the actual image processing that helped solve the Hubble telescope’s problems,” he says. “It was inspiring to know that what we were learning in the theoretical classroom was so applicable to actual problems.”

Last year, Gonsalves was interviewed on the NPR program On Point, mostly about his work on the space telescopes. He said, “My whole life I’ve been helping people and I love it. I had 10,000 students and I’m still in touch with a lot of them.”

One is Danahy. Some three decades after first taking that course with Gonsalves, he too works with incoming engineering students. “I find myself inspired by and taking so many lessons from my time learning from and working with Bob, and applying all of that to my own teaching: how do I engage my students, inspire them, and excite them about the content much like he did for me.”

He Brought Space Telescope Images into Focus - Published originally on Tufts Now

Matthias Scheutz (second from right) is joined by (left to right) Julia Karol, A04, Trustee Steven Karol, A76, A04P, A13P, and Michelle Karol, A04P, A13P, at his inaugural lecture as the Karol Family Applied Technology Professor. Matthias Scheutz (second from right) is joined by (left to right) Julia Karol, A04, Trustee Steven Karol, A76, A04P, A13P, and Michelle Karol, A04P, A13P, at his inaugural lecture as the Karol Family Applied Technology Professor.

The Human-Robot Connection

Matthias Scheutz is the inaugural Karol Family Applied Technology Professor

Trustee Steven Karol, A76, A04P, A13P, has long been intrigued by artificial intelligence, or AI. But he particularly remembers the day he toured the Human-Robot Interaction Lab at Tufts, where a robot was instructed by voice commands to perform simple tasks.

That the robot followed orders was impressive in its own right. “But then,” recalled Karol, “I was blown away by the fact that the robot instantaneously ‘trained’ a second robot to do the same tasks by sharing its programming. It was a profound experience.”

That startling display of machine learning left such an impression that now, years later, Karol and his wife, Michelle Karol, A04P, A13P, are providing transformative support for research by the lab’s director, Matthias Scheutz. A renowned cognitive and computer science professor, Scheutz is the first holder of the Karol Family Applied Technology Professorship, an endowed position.

The gift reflects Steven Karol’s pride in the School of Engineering, where he previously served on and chaired the Board of Advisors. Scheutz’s stature in his field makes him “a global resource. We are honored to support his work and his passion for engineering as a force for good,” Karol said.

Kyongbum Lee, dean of the School of Engineering and Karol Family Professor, said the Karols’ generous support “makes it possible that research led by Tufts faculty will shape how robots and humans co-exist in the future.”

Scheutz said the gift provides pivotal financial support as the impact of social robots on daily life is rapidly evolving and expanding, enabling him to connect with stakeholders outside Tufts both on the government side as well as from the private sector to engage in conversations about their needs and possible robot solutions.

While his research in artificial intelligence and robotics is broad, he is most excited about his robots’ ability to acquire new knowledge quickly from natural language instructions. Say a robot can prepare pancakes one way but is told to replace regular milk with soy milk. Can it adapt?

“To make such a change is not easy,” said Scheutz. To make a vegan pancake “would require a script representing a skill that’s both accessible and can be modified without negatively impacting other scripts,” he said. “We developed methods for modifying the robot’s knowledge temporarily or permanently on the fly so that the robot can immediately perform the new task without forgetting previously acquired skills.”

While Scheutz is excited about such technical advances, he’s also a voice for raising concerns about the ethical impact of autonomous robots, both at the individual and the societal level. For example: the potential for humans to develop emotional bonds with robots and the possible dangers of increased reliance on AI.

“We need to consider the broad and complex interplay of ethics, technology policy, and social justice, among other factors, as we advance the field. The goal must be to put humans in the center of any technology development,” he said.

Such a thoughtful approach gives Steven Karol confidence that the future of robotics is in good hands at Tufts. There is uncertainty and concern around how humans and robotics will coexist, he said, “but the world needs people like Matthias, grounded in deep knowledge and ethical thinking, leading the way.”

The Human-Robot Connection - Published originally on the Tufts University Alumni & Friends website

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