Student Profile: Matheus Oliveira

Matheus Oliveira is conducting his doctoral research in Transportation Systems at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), under the MIT Portugal Program. He is from Brazil and has a Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Currently he is working on his PhD project on "Infrastructure Investment Policy: How have financing schemes been misleading the investment decision in the transport sector?" and has spent a semester at MIT in Boston working on his thesis and developing his research work. Matheus’ PhD project is being supervised by Rosário Macário (IST-UL), Romulo Orrico Filho (COPPE-UFRJ).

 You are from Brazil, why did you choose the MIT Portugal Program?

I met Professor Prof. Rosário Macário in Rio de Janeiro while working at the organization of the World Conference on Transport Research (WCTR). She mentioned the MIT Portugal  Program in transportation system. At the time I was finishing my Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and decided to research about the program, Lisbon and the MIT Portugal partnership at IST. Among the PhD transportation programs in the world, MIT Portugal is one of the bests and the opportunity to study in Portugal and U.S. was the most important decision factor.

 Can you make a short résumé of your academic background before entering the MPP?

I have a Bachelor's Degree in Economics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and I thought of continuing doing research in the innovation field. But finally, I ended up realizing that the transportation sector could be a better opportunity to make real changes in peoples’ daily lives. After this resolution, I changed my plans and moved to Rio de Janeiro to do my Master’s studies- There I started working on several transportation projects, sustainability research and public transportation planning. It is amazing to realize how transportation is fundamental for developing a sustainable, inclusive and healthier society.  

You began your PhD in 2013, what´s your opinion about the Doctoral Program in Transportation Systems (DPTS)?

I believe that DPTS is one of the best ones in the world. In particular, the experience at MIT in Cambridge is one of the highlights of the program. I have learned a lot in the last four years. Classes, conferences and workshops are part of this growth, but I would like to emphasize how much I have learned with my colleagues. This interaction is fundamental to overcome the PhD loneliness.

What are in your perspective, the main benefits of this Program?

I can say that one of the highlights of the program is the possibility to learn, talk and work with professors and candidates from other universities. Not only John Akula, my supervisor at MIT, but all Professors from Porto, Coimbra and other European universities, have presented fruitful discussions in the classes. Although, it is sometimes boring to see classes in videoconference, these interactions represent a distinguished feature of the program.

Last year you spent six months at MIT USA, how was the experience?

I have spent a nice time at MIT last year. It was a great opportunity to discover new interests, work hard, get in touch with new ideas and make good friends. Every corner in the campus is an opportunity to see new things, grab free food and learn about interesting projects – once I have even spoke to a researcher about his work on 3D printing human organs.

Outside the MIT campus, Boston and Cambridge are nice cities, especially after winter. I arrived in February in the middle of snow storm. I remember to stay the first week at home because outside the temperature was -22, but after a few weeks you get used to the cold.

You were under the supervision of Professor John Akula. How did this experience contribute to your research and to your professional path?

John is an amazing person, a thoughtful professor and a dedicated supervisor. He had an essential role on my thesis development and also with all my research work.  From all we have discussed along my stay at MIT I would like to share what I think is the best tip for a PhD’s thesis: Some people might agree with everything written in your thesis, others will try to refuse all the arguments presented. When we are writing, we must find the argument hardcore (i.e. the findings that even the biggest incredulous must accept.) and bring it to the center of the discussion – This is called focusing.

In terms of personal experience, how was it?

MIT is mostly about working. Of course, it is not the traditional work, but if you have several opportunities available almost every day, you are almost compelled to make some value out of them. In parallel to the thesis, I have learned about civic innovation, coding and joined the Code for America brigade for civic hacking. Driven by this opportunity, I have started to developed a transportation civic innovation project in my home town in Brazil (

Would you recommend this experience to other students?

Sure! Go to MIT; stay at least 6 months; work hard; eat some free food; meet some good people; talk to your supervisor and other professors; learn about research projects completely out of the box; go for sailing; see as much conferences as possible in the time you stay there; and spend some time at Muddy’s.

What´s your thesis about and when do you plan to finish it?

I am almost finishing my thesis and expect to present it in the end of August. My research discusses the effects of European Union funding policy before 2008 on local government transportation investment decision. Moreover, the thesis tests for the instability escalation by the development of a feedback loop between the EU convergence goals and the economic growth promoted by these investments. 

Plans for after graduation?

As I said, in the latest years I have become an enthusiastic of the public participation and crowdsourcing as a way of supporting decision tools. I would like to move on with this research and apply it to the transportation planning. +MetroBH is one of the first steps of this path. For the future, I am looking to find a good way to combine my research on funding with this new framework.


Matheus Oliveira scholarship is funded by CAPES - Proc. nº 9227/13-0

Student Profile: Khadija Benis


Khadija Benis is conducting her doctoral research in Sustainable Energy Systems at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), under the MIT Portugal Program. She is currently involved in the Suscity project, one of MPP three test-beds and last year she spent 7 months at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT). Her research consists of developing a framework for environmental and economic sustainability assessment of Building-Integrated Agriculture (BIA) in urban contexts. BIA consists of the application of high-performance soilless cultivation methods (e.g., hydroponics) adapted for use on top of or in buildings, using efficient energy, water and waste management cycles.This approach of producing food closer to where it is consumed has aroused an increasing interest over the last years since it can considerably decrease fossil fuel consumption, improve food security, provide jobs locally, cut transportation costs and enhance energy efficiency in buildings.

Khadija’ research is being supervised by Paulo Ferrão (IST) and Christoph Reinhart (MIT).

You are from Morocco, did you come to Portugal to study?

Yes. I arrived in Lisbon in September 2010, for the second year of my Erasmus-Mundus master course in “Urban Studies in Mediterranean Regions” at FAUL (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade de Lisboa). During that first year in Lisbon, I fell in love with the city and decided to stay a little longer.

Why did you choose the MIT Portugal Program? 

At Architecture school, I had the opportunity to collaborate in several research projects related to affordable and sustainable housing in developing countries. Back then, I got passionate about innovation and disruptive research in sustainable design. After the Master, where I specialized in “Sustainable Architectural and Urban Renewal”, I was looking for new challenges. The “Sustainable Energy Systems” Program within MIT Portugal seemed to be the perfect fit for me because of its focus area on Sustainable Built Environment and its international scope, which would allow me to develop impactful research in the field of urban sustainability. Also, while being based in Portugal, the program would allow me to conduct part of my research at MIT. There was no need to think twice about it!

You began your PhD in 2013, what is your opinion about the SES Doctoral Program?

 The “Sustainable Energy Systems” Program offers a stimulating international and multidisciplinary environment. During the year of coursework, I had both engineering and economics classes and I worked with colleagues from various backgrounds. I had the chance to explore different topics in the energy field and further define the scope of my PhD thesis. During my second year of dissertation research, I had the opportunity to spend some time at MIT as a visiting researcher and work closely with two prestigious interdisciplinary research groups.

You are involved in one of MPP´s test bed projects “Suscity”, what are your main responsibilities? 

In Lisbon through the summer of 2015, I was involved in a task with a group of visiting students from MIT. We developed a characterization of residential resource stock and flows within the SusCity site,and an interactive three-dimensional digital tool for analyzing, visualizing, and communicating the residential resource stock and flows. Last year at MIT, I worked with the “Sustainable Design Lab” team on the development of new urban sustainability performance metrics, that we applied to Lisbon. I focused on the productive use of rooftops at the neighborhood scale, by assessing rooftop greenhouses for hydroponic food production vs. rooftop solar PV energy generation.

Last year you spent seven months at MIT USA, how was the experience?

It was an extremely intense and rewarding experience. I was living on campus and I can say campus life went far beyond lab hours! All kinds of activities were happening every day, all the time: lunch talks, art exhibitions, happy hours, Sunday brunches, concerts, dancing classes, sports, etc. It was very intense in terms of networking too. Through work, I had the opportunity to consolidate links with the “Sustainable Design Lab” research group at the “MIT School of Architecture + Planning” and with the “Open Agriculture Initiative” research group at the “MIT Media Lab”. I was warmly welcomed and I instantaneously fit in with both teams! Out of the lab, I was also constantly meeting inspiring people from all over the world, that were working on all kinds of fascinating topics. I have volunteered for the “MIT Sustainability Summit 2016” (a student-led conference that takes place every year during Earth Week on the MIT campus), and I have represented our program’s students at the MIT Portugal booth during the MIT Open House annual event.

You were under the supervision of Professor Christoph Reinhart, a renowned building scientist and architectural educator especially in the field of sustainable building design and environmental modelling. How was this opportunity? 

Working with Christoph was literally inspiring. He has a very dynamic way of teaching and debating about urban sustainable design. Through the spring semester, i.e., from February to May, I had the opportunity to attend his classes, where I have worked with colleagues on the group assignments. My team has developed an urban design project closely related to my thesis topic, which has allowed me to test some concepts and further explore some ideas. I had the chance to learn how to use the performance simulation tools developed by Christoph’s team. Building upon what I have learned in the classes, I was able to build my own simulation workflow, which was a very challenging and exciting process.

What did you do at MIT on a daily basis and how did this experience contribute to your research and to your professional path?

Alongside my research, I attended Christoph’s classes three times a week and I worked on group assignments. I mainly worked at the “Building Technology Lab”, where I was assigned a desk, but I also enjoyed going to any of the amazing libraries of the campus. When weather conditions were milder, I would cross the bridge and go work at a café in Boston. Through the summer, I spent more time at the Media Lab, where the “Open Agriculture Initiative” team offered me a spot in their open space too. Having the opportunity to be at the Media Lab, immersed in such an exciting and diverse environment, working with people from different backgrounds and from all over the world, was highly stimulating and had a valuable impact on my work. Fruitful discussions have helped me to constantly develop and improve my model, and my research visit ended up being extremely productive.

In terms of personal experience, how was it?

It was my first time in the US. I had the opportunity to explore Boston and New York, but I spent most of the time in Cambridge. It is quite a cosmopolitan city, where you constantly meet new people with exciting projects. For the last two months, I left the campus apartment to experience living in a big American family house in Somerville, that I was sharing with European and American scientists and artists. It was a completely different daily routine. It was summer, the weather was nice, and I went to more events out of the campus. I had a wonderful time!

For other MPP students that are thinking about going to MIT USA what would you tell them?

I would totally recommend it! It was definitely an intense and prolific time of my PhD journey, and the whole experience had a highly positive impact on my work. However, I would advise them to choose very carefully the right moment of their PhD to go there, so that they can make the most out of it. The clearer the objectives of their visit, the more beneficial and productive the experience is. MIT is well known worldwide as a leading institution in technological innovation. The campus provides you with unparalleled resources and a stimulating environment, and that can be quite overwhelming. For that reason, I would recommend students to go “with a plan”, but also to leave some space for improvisation. I would tell them to be curious, get involved in extracurricular activities and talk to everyone there!

What are your main goals for your professional future?

I am planning to deliver the thesis in September 2017, and hopefully defend it by December 2017. Afterwards, and considering that the innovation and entrepreneurship focus of the MIT Portugal Program was a major motivation for my application, I believe my research is innovative and has the potential to make a positive impact on society. But for that it still needs some iterations and validation. I hope I can further develop it after finishing my PhD.

Student Profile: David Antunes

David AntunesDavid Antunes is conducting his doctoral research in Transportation Systems at University of Coimbra, under the MIT Portugal Program. He is currently investigating ways to improve how commercial air transportation deals with allocation/scheduling problems. Besides reducing costs to the airline companies, the research will ultimately benefit passengers as the airlines can provide them better service. In Portugal, David Antunes’ research is being supervised by António Pais Antunes (FCTUC); Cynthia Barnhart (MIT) and Vikrant Vaze (Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth). Last year he was at MIT working with Cynthia Barnhart.

How did you learn about the MIT Portugal Program and what motivated you to apply for a PhD in Transportation Systems?

I studied at University of Coimbra and received my Integrated Masters in Civil Engineering, with a concentration in urbanism, transportation, and transportation infrastructure. So I was already engaged in the transportation field and, since University of Coimbra is part of the MIT Portugal program, I got to know it up close. Some of my colleagues were pursuing their PhDs within the MIT Portugal Transportation Systems program and the good feedback that I had from them encouraged me to apply for the PhD program

You recently developed a new operational model as demonstrated in this video. What are we looking at?

This video shows the early-stage version of the Airline Operational Simulation Model developed as part of my research. It’s modeled with an agent-based modeling framework and uses data from the Airline On-Time Performance Data (Bureau of Transport Statistics ). It shows a day of operations of one airline, Virgin America (VX). On the left-hand side we can see the flights flown during that day on a GIS map. On the right-hand side of the window we see the aircraft and crews of Virgin America that are in the airport depicted by a generic representation. In this case, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is highlighted in the model.

How is that integrated within your PhD research thesis and what do you hope to achieve?

This model is just one component of my research. It will allow testing of my optimized schedules (crew pairings and aircraft rotations) and assessing their robustness. As I said, the simulation model is still in an early stage, but based on the Airline On-Time Performance Data, delay distribution profiles were made and those will be used to stochastically generate delays for each flight. This allows testing the optimized robust schedules (an optimization model that I’m currently working on), evaluating their robustness, and balancing scheduling costs against the exposure to delay risk, consequently obtaining a global optimal solution.

What would be the major effects of this project on people, economy, industry, etc.?

Commercial air transport heavily relies on optimization techniques to solve allocation/scheduling problems, but this results in a very fragile scheduling situation providing little leeway. This situation is very sensitive to any perturbation. Even a minor perturbation can lead to system-wide disturbances of the airline’s schedule because there are very few buffers built in. Once a delay or disturbance occurs, the airline tries to recover to the normal schedule in an efficient and effective way. However, this recovery action represents an added cost to the original schedule. In this research, combining optimization and simulation models, we try to balance the initial planning cost with the recovery cost, adding robustness to the schedule and so obtain the overall optimal cost. More robust scheduling will also translate into a general reduction of propagated delays in the network, resulting in a better quality of service for the passengers.

How do you see this area evolving in the future? 

Robustness in airline scheduling is a hot topic in research at the moment.  Most airlines already include some buffers in their schedules, but this is done manually, based on experience of the people responsible for the scheduling. In the future, the industry will adopt more structured approaches for dealing with delays and adding robustness, based on the continuing academic research.

You were at MIT last year (2014) for a research period at Professor Barnhart’s lab. How do you classify that experience and what was its contribution to your project? 

My stay at MIT under Cynthia Barnhart’s supervision was very productive. Overall, the environment with my colleagues at the office of MIT Portugal (and MIT in general) helped me a lot in fast-tracking my research. It allowed me to network with talented researchers at MIT and beyond, including the opportunity to work with Professor Vikrant Vaze from Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.

Student Profile: António Neves da Silva

AntonioNevesdaSilvaAntónio Neves da Silva was admitted to the MIT Portugal Program (MPP) Executive Masters in Sustainable Energy Systems (SES) in 2011. Since then he has developed a successful international career at Dalkia (a Veolia group company), moving from Dalkia Portugal to join the corporate strategy and development department.

As market manager for building energy services he developed new offers that were deployed in the group’s geographies, based on an innovative solution for achieving energy savings:  the Dalkia Energy Savings Center (DESC). The DESC is the first integrated energy efficiency management platform associating both a digital and a human network to achieve energy savings. It is in charge of the energy management of 11,000 installations in the Paris region. Today, new remote energy management centers are operational in France, Dubai, and Belgium, with more locations soon to come.

With Veolia’s acquisition of 100% of Dalkia International, Antonio will now join Veolia corporate in a new department: innovation and markets. His new role as project manager at Veolia is to develop and deploy worldwide new offers for industrial clients for whom a global strategy on resources, including energy, water, and waste, is the key for sustainable growth.

António Neves da Silva discusses how the MIT Portugal Program was the foundation for the future of his career and for the establishment of a solid network of contacts.

  • Where are you from?

I’m from Lisbon, Portugal. Through Inov Contacto I had the opportunity of living in the UK and started working in the Veolia Group. I then came back to Portugal, got admitted to the MIT Portugal Program, and after a year I moved to France.

  • How did you learn about the MIT Portugal Program and what motivated you to apply for the SES Executive Masters?

The MIT Portugal Program SES Executive Masters has become a reference for all energy and environmental engineers in Portugal, and since the first year of the program I’ve have received excellent feedback from colleagues who participated. I was motivated by the contents of the program because they covered economics and technologies, and its being an international program seemed like a plus.

  • What major benefits did you receive from participating in the MPP SES Executive Masters?

First, I gained a global vision of the challenges our society faces in terms of energy and environment. This allowed me to understand the different roles each of us as managers and as citizens needs to play to make our world more sustainable. Putting it simply, the program clearly showed me that we need much more than just technology in order to approach issues of resource scarcity, both globally and locally.

Second, the interaction with other students from different academic and professional backgrounds was really enriching. Together with professors, we had the opportunity to debate and develop projects addressing actual issues of the market.

The third major benefit for me is the quality of the program itself and the courses given. These subjects are really up-to-date and covered my professional needs at the time.

  • How has this contributed to your career development?

The benefits of the program became gradually more visible. As our business moved from energy supply to energy savings, new ideas and people were needed to develop and deploy new business models. Luckily, thanks to the MPP SES, I was one of these people. I was chosen because I had learned about sharing energy savings and I spoke the same language as the people who chose me – sustainability.

  • In your opinion, how will your field of action develop in the future?

Successfully, I hope. I can see my field of action developing in terms of territories, activities, and expertise. Territory-wise, after the program I’ve moved from energy projects only in Portugal to about 20 countries. In my new job I will work with twice as many countries and triple the activities, managing not only energy but also water and waste projects. Cities and industries can no longer have separate and linear strategies for these resources, so the circular economy has to be developed. In my opinion, there will be many opportunities for me and for others to keep evolving in this field, either in expertise or in management areas. Although my field of action regarding territories and activities has been extended, I have been targeting more selective market sectors. First focusing on building energy services and now on only a few industries to which we can provide substantial added value through innovation. For these projects we not only need to address environmental requirements but also economic and social concerns.

  • How did you manage to sustain both your professional life and the Executive Masters?

It was very exhausting, but I used a few tricks to do it. I tried to develop specific skills that I needed in my professional life and that made my job easier. When the results of learning become visible, it is easier to get flexibility from your boss. It is also important to be very organized. The program made me more organized, but I still ended up taking vacation days to finish some projects in due time. Nevertheless, this bit of extra effort was worth the value of gaining more knowledge and developing the network of colleagues.

  • Any last remarks?

We are living a period of severe crisis in Portugal, and although some growth strategies need to be rethought, others do work. Innovation is one of them, and is the key to sustainability. At MIT Portugal I understood how promising it was to bring innovation into environmental business and what my role could be. What an advantage it has been for my career!

Faculty Profile: Dr. Alexandre Ferreira da Silva

Title: Asst. Professor, University of Minho, MIT Portugal Program, EDAM (Engineering Design and Advanced Manufacturing)

MIT Portugal Program (MPP) teaching activities: Advanced Technology Seminars; Innovation Management (EDAM week); i-Teams

Current research interests: Medical Devices Development; Micro- and Nano-technology; Additive Manufacturing

Host lab at MIT: Nano-Engineered Composite aerospace STructures laboratory (NECSTlab)

Dr. Alexandre Ferreira da Silva