It’s remote, icy and for most part, an inhospitable region at the end of the earth. But for researchers, Antarctica is a natural laboratory that provides an amazing opportunity to investigate and study processes that are crucial from a national and global perspective.
In 2013, Stevens Institute of Technology was invited by Lockheed Martin to assist in the ‘Virtual Antarctica’ project – to develop simulations of all operational processes and activities that occur at McMurdo station, Antarctica’s largest research center.
“Tackling logistical challenges at the highest, driest, coldest, windiest and emptiest place on Earth, is a Herculean task,” said Dr. Mo Mansouri, assistant professor at the School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE), and Virtual Antarctica project lead. "Our task was to test and manipulate scenarios in a virtual environment and to create critical intelligence that would improve logistical and operational processes with regards to medical facilities, communications, transportation, shipping, emergency response, housing, food services, science support and environmental protection at McMurdo station," Dr. Mansouri said.
With student-centricity being a strategic priority at Stevens, Dr. Mansouri engaged five undergraduate engineering management students to work on a section of the Virtual Antarctica project. "At Stevens, we ensure that our students achieve their maximum potential by engaging them in all aspects of the academic and research enterprise," said Dr. Mansouri.
Cerille Avetria, Matthew Chang, Dylan Feldman, Anne Fodor and Christie Gamon, seniors in the engineering management program at SSE were assigned the task of developing simulations that would optimize the shuttle operations which transport passengers from the international arrival and departures section of the Pegasus runway to McMurdo base station.
“It was a three-step process; first, we simulated and documented existing shuttle operations at the base, next, we altered/manipulated these operations in a virtual environment, and last, we came up with alternate shuttle service models that were more efficient and cost-effective,” said Matthew Chang.
“The project was a great opportunity to work on a small portion of a huge real-world problem” said Dylan Feldman.
“It was incredible working on a project in Antarctica – albeit virtually. From identifying and analyzing the existing shuttle process at McMurdo, to creating alternate prototype shuttle service models that would be optimal in functioning and could support research operations in Antarctica, the process reinforced all the systems and project management education that we have received at Stevens.”
“Being part of a team, gathering requirements and managing deadlines were some of my key takeways from the project,” said Christie Gamon. To get hands-on experience on how a large systems network functions; the several inter-dependent parts that exist in a system, and how while looking for a solution to a small part of the problem it is vital to keep the whole big system in perspective, this is something that cannot be learnt in the classroom.”
According to faculty advisor, Eirik Hole, SSE, “The project is a fantastic example of what we want the senior design experience to be for our engineering management students. The students have to integrate everything they have learned during their time here at Stevens and figure out how to apply it to a real problem for a real client. The transformation over the two semesters from students who expect their professor to tell them what to do and how to do it, into fledgling professionals that can take a challenge and run with it never ceases to amaze me.”
The project will be displayed at the Stevens Innovation Expo held on April 30th on the Stevens campus, an annual, one-day, campus-wide event that displays the extensive research and innovation accomplishments of faculty and students.