Student Profile: Ivana Kostic

Foto perfilIvana Kostic is a Bioengineering Systems PhD Alumni at Instituto Superior Técnico who has just discussed her thesis supervised by Lino Ferreita (CNC-UC), Joaquim Cabral (IST-UL) and Jeffrey Karp (MIT). The Serbian Alumni soon realized she wanted to do a PhD in the area of Regenerative Medicine and to impact the lives of patients living with Cardiovascular diseases. In 2010 she entered the MIT Portugal which offered a promising opportunity to work in collaboration with the best engineering labs and hospitals between USA and Portugal.

You have a Masters degree in Human Physiology at the University of Belgrade. After that why did you choose the Bioengineering Doctoral Program of the MIT Portugal Program and Portugal to study?

Just before graduation at University of Belgrade, I got an internship in Physiology lab at the University of Viçosa in Brazil through IAESTE program - International Organization for Exchange of Students for Technical Experience. It was a month and a half of studying and living abroad at the best Universitiy of Brazil in the area of physiology - plant, animal and human. Among other things, I began to learn the Portuguese language, culture and tradition which further affirmed my thought of continuing my studies in connection with Portugal after graduation.

At the same time, I had a clear vision of doing a PhD in the area of Regenerative Medicine and making an impact in the lives of patients living with Cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, immediately after graduation I applied for the First BSRT summer school in Berlin. Within the 2 week program we had lectures, practical sessions, and interaction with patients, doctors and medical staff. All the participants and areas were multidisciplinary - students from chemistry, biology, physics, med school, engineers and we all had the opportunity to learn from each other as well as to learn from the multidisciplinary point of view in Immunology, Bone & Cartilage regeneration and Cardiovascular regeneration and medicine.

In parallel, I volunteered  within IAESTE in Belgrade and worked with multiple engineering students from all over the world. Most importantly, I have realized that bioengineering is at the intersection of fields--medicine, biology, physiology, pathophysiology and engineering--necessary for discovering the best solutions, practices and/or therapies for suffering patients.

The main inspiration for my work was drawn from the wonderfully book written by Erich Segal called Doctors. On the first page, 1972 of Harvard Medical School Dean welcomes the new generation of students with only one number on the board, 26 and only one sentence:

I urge you to engrave this on the template of your memories: there are thousands of diseases in this world, but Medical Science only has an empirical cure for 26 of them. The rest is … guesswork.

All in all, the MIT Portugal program offered precisely all of my previously learned design criteria to develop the cure for specific cardiovascular disease/s. The program was promising, particularly the collaboration with the best engineering labs and hospitals between USA and Portugal.

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

After the internship in Viçosa, Brazil, my graduation at the University of Belgrade and eye-opening BSRT summer school visit in Germany, I first started my PhD program at the Belgrade University. Practical part of the thesis was to be performed at the Institute for Medical Research in Belgrade, within the lab for Experimental Hematology, investigating immunological properties of mesenchymal cells. Even though i had a strong interest in pursuing the topic, I was curious enough to explore other, more translational strategies as well as compare how the science and investigation are organized and function in these areas in European Union and in the USA. Therefore, i accepted my MIT Portugal scholarship and followed my dream of doing research in cardiovascular area, despite the high risk and additional requirements of changing the field of study from biology to bioengineering.

I kept in touch with my lab in Belgrade. Furthermore, we had few fruitful collaborative projects with labs from Portugal that worked on similar topics, enabling students and PIs from both labs to visit each other and exchange new knowledge.

You began your Bio PhD in 2010, what´s your opinion about this Doctoral Program?

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of MIT Portugal Bioengineering program. I would follow this path all over again without any regret and strongly recommend it to anyone who would want to pursue PhD degree abroad.

2010 was my first year of study with lectures, two lab rotations and a course on Innovation and Entrepreneurship led by a professor that I truly appreciate and whose work I follow even today - Prof. Luis Filipe Lages. Among other things, this course is one of the things that sets our program apart from all other PhD programs. During six months the teams were developing business plans for the technologies from the Portuguese labs with an official pitch presentation to the investors from the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce. This consolidated our efforts to identify the necessary steps of getting our unique and innovative solution/product to the market and to the patients in a much faster and cheaper fashion.

Our group was multidisciplinary, from engineers (mechanical, bioengineers, IT) to biologist, chemists and medical doctors. This taught us how people from other areas think and function, thus helping us strategize the best way to collaborate in such a group while still making a difference.

What is the main core of your research and thesis?

By 2030 more than 23 million people will die per year from Cardiovascular diseases - CVDs, those with ischemic origins being most threatening. Loss of blood supply to the heart following an infarction leads to death of heart cells, which can cause extensive tissue and functional loss of the heart cells depending on the infarction severity. This can lead to negative remodeling and the development of heart failure. There is an urgent need to develop therapeutics that have a rapid translational potential and off-the-shelf availability to meaningfully impact the lives of patients.

The core of my thesis is to find an innovative solution for resuscitating the dying tissue of the heart due to lack of oxygen and nutrients after an insult, such as myocardial infarction.Through my PhD program, we were determined to compare the effects of umbilical cord blood cells on the cardiac tissue on one side, and the exosomes--nanoparticles secreted from those cells--on the other side. Another challenge was the delivery of both cells and exosomes to the heart tissue in minimally invasive ways. More scientific details on our approach with cell therapies in myocardial infarction can be found in our publication (Scientific Reports, 2015), while other two articles on exosomes are in progress. Interestingly, we have found other potential applications of exosomes. One of them is in the wound healing process and this is being further developed by the startup Exogenus Therapeutics. Other potential applications will be explored as well.

First part of the project was developed within Lino Ferreira’s lab in Biocant and CNC, Coimbra, Portugal while second part within Karp lab of MIT, Harvard and Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston as well as  previously established collaboration with Boston Children’s hospital. Additionally, our project includes collaboration with visiting PI and lecturer from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dr. Garry Duffy.

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

MIT Portugal program is a unique PhD program in four different areas of engineering: Bioengineering Systems, Transportation Systems, Engineering Design & Advanced Manufacturing and Sustainable Energy Systems. Additionally, all these four areas are intercepting academia and industry in Portugal and in the USA. This specifically is contributing on solving problems of everyday life from medicine to traffic jams, future of transportation on Earth and in space, sustainable consumption of energy and so on and truly applying the newly discovered solutions as rapidly as possible.

Numerous global companies collaborate with the  program (Siemens, Stemmatters, Rolls-Royce plc UK among others) as many spin-offs come out of the research projects of the program: Gecko Biomedical, Matera, Silico life, Treat U, Biomode and others while many more are expected.

Finally, the problem solving skills are being exchanged between MIT and Europe which forms a unique collaborative environment and ecosystem of support and development of highly innovative solutions ever made before.

In 2013 you started your work at MIT and you stayed there until 2016, how was the experience?

I had a chance to see similarities and differences between EU and USA in lab organization, grant writing and grant management, how the labs are organized and how the students were delegated. This is not solely dependent on supervisors, but rather on the scientific systems adopted by two different continents.

Most of all, I had a chance to discover MIT in person. What an honour! By being in the program for two and a half years within MIT Portugal program, i was ready for the next step, going to MIT. From the first day excitement is felt in the air, the eagerness, the thrill, the engineering spirit, people and students from all over the world coming there with the same goal - to build something, to make a difference, to work hard. All of this with little time, lot of competition, limited budget. I had a chance to read about this in a book offered by our program Discovering the MIT: The idea factory: How to think at MIT by Pepper White. By reading the book i articulated for the first time, something i was using before for problem solving but didn’t have the name for it - wishful thinking.

MIT is located in Cambridge, MA, which is not only an amazing scholarly and engineering place, but it is surrounded by several biggest hospitals and research institutions in the USA like MGH, BWH, Dana-Farber and others. In parallel, the entrepreneurial mindset of the city is infectious and  is one of the most developed in the country. All three components: engineering & science, medicine and entrepreneurship come very often as inseparable parts of any project which sets basis for translational work beneficial for patients all over the world.

As an entrepreneurial city, Boston offers  multiple events contributing to translation of various projects, and even ideas. Recently, an increasing number of hospitals are organizing Hackathons where within only 48h medical problems are turned into solutions and potential companies, from the groups formed of scientists, engineers, designers, doctors etc. At the Pediatrics Hackathon in October 2014 my team and I decided to find a solution for simplified delivery of multiple oral, liquid drugs to pediatric patients and got an offer from PureTech investor. This was undoubtedly an inspiration for me to organize a hackathon in Serbia in 2017.

Ivana Kostic 3

Microsoft center @Kendall square, MIT - 2nd Pediatric hackathon, 2014

You were under the supervision of Professor Jeff Karp, one of your thesis supervisors. How did this experience contribute to your research and to your professional path?

I had a great pleasure of working with two supervisors, Prof. Lino Ferreira from Portugal and Prof. Jeff Karp at MIT and Brigham and Women’s hospital. Both of them did their postdoc research within the lab of Prof. Robert Langer the father of multidisciplinary, problem solving in medicine who started using chemical engineering principles in drug delivery, minimally invasive procedures and other engineering strategies in medicine.

In this environment i had the excellent opportunity to learn from both of them, with complementary approaches in medical problem solving. Both of them are equally successful in this field, each having multiple licensed patents, research grants and companies spun-off from their lab’s research - Gecko Biomedical, Skintifique, Alivio Therapeutics, Frequency Therapeutics were started by Prof. Jeff Karp while Matera and initiation of Exogenus Therapeutics was formed by Prof. Lino Ferreira.

Only in recognizing the differences and focusing on the same goals we can achieve greatness.

This is how we approached challenges of working on MIT Portugal grant on two different continents, time zones and scientific systems of EU and USA. :) I am looking forward to the fruition of out work soon.

Prof. Jeff Karp is wonderful mentor, contributing greatly to my independent work, questioning, thinking and developing medical solutions. He is populating his lab with the brightest people from all over the world from various areas, always looking for inspiration in the nature. Most importantly he is in constant contact with the surgeons, doctors and patients always in search for new, orphaned medical problems to tackle.

In terms of personal experience, how was it? Would you recommend this experience to other students?

I had a chance to perfect portuguese language and master the version from Portugal aside from Brazilian version of portuguese. Today, even 4 years after leaving Portugal i can communicate efficiently in Portuguese, something I am truly proud of. No matter where i decide to live in the world, Portugal will be my Homeland where i will always return with smile on my face.

Besides the project i was working on, which was in area of research, the program enabled me to establish a large network of people with similar interests. While i thought i would be the only biologist among bioengineers who wants to start her own biotech company one day, i discovered multiple similarly oriented people who are ready to educate themselves beyond their initial background in order to fulfill their ideas. Most of my colleagues are my great friends, from both labs, working in the most diverse areas from their own companies to following the academic path to exploring medical industry areas.

I have friends from all over the world and as a traveller, I had a chance to visit the Azorean islands-portuguese islands between Portugal and USA, to visit cousins in Chicago, friends at San Diego and LA, to explore New York, Washington DC, Maine and many parts of New England and capture the spirit of Portugal and the USA.

Ivana Microsoft center

The Staten Island Ferry, New York

 Congratulations, you have just graduated. Would you say that this PhD fulfilled your expectations?

Thank you! 

The time has passed so fast, which is so common when you work on things of interest to you no matter how challenging they are. The program and my choices in the program completely fulfilled my expectations. Most importantly, i worked with mentors i wanted to, solving problems i wanted to solve in the countries i though would offer the best conditions to do so. The work is still ongoing in Boston Children’s hospital and i am very eager to assess its impact in the clinic.

Now, what are your plans for the near future? And for the long one?

As i haven’t been in Serbia and Belgrade (my home town) for four years i have decided to spend some time here and make an impact by learning and working on the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, mainly to the medtech areas. My goal is to motivate, support and educate local students to collaborate in multidisciplinary projects, to use their knowledge from various technologies. Serbia is known to have high level talent in almost all tech areas starting from our scientists Nikola Tesla, Mihajlo Pupin, Prof. Gordana Vunjak Novakovic among others, and use it to resolve local medical problems.

We first did this by organizing the first MIT hacking medicine in Belgrade in january 2017 with local IT hub called Startit. Two mentors and co-founders came from Boston, we had 10 teams from more than 200 initial application where all the solutions had application for their own local organization. One of the winners, Break Aphasia, further won Belgrade connect and Berlin connect competitions after our hackathon. They are helping patients with aphasia, which normally transpires after the patient suffers from a stroke, as well as speech therapists working with those patients, making the patient’s work and communication much easier through application and a platform. Candy button is also continuing its initial take-off successfully. They represent diabetes patients and tackle the hypoglycemia through hardware-software, mixed solution.

Long term plans in my career are connected to further development of my PhD project. Mainly i would like to contribute in the innovative space of cardiovascular diseases further, locally and globally.

Student Profile: Márcia Baptista

Márcia Baptista

Márcia Baptista entered the MIT Portugal Engineering Design and Advanced Manufacturing Doctoral Program at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) in 2013/2014 after a Masters degree in Computer and Informatics Engineering completed at the same University. Prior to MPP, she did an international internship at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo and in 2014 she started working with EMBRAER Brazil, an opportunity that came in the follow-up of a project developed in collaboration with Rolls Royce Plc under the MPP program. In 2017 she came back to Japan to work with Prof. Helmut Prendinger who is her formal PhD co-supervisor and continue her PhD work. Currently and until the beginning of 2018 she´ll be in an internship at NASA.

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

I hold a Bachelor and Masters degree in Computer and Informatics Engineering from Instituto Superior Técnico (IST). After finishing my Master degree in 2008 I went to work in the banking services for 3 years.  I also worked for several years at INESC-ID in the Department of Mathematics where I teacher Calculus I for one semester.  Prior to MPP, I was also fortunate to do an international internship at National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo for 9 months.  

Why did you choose the EDAM Doctoral Program of the MIT Portugal Program?

Solving problems with real-world applicability has always intrigued me. The EDAM Doctoral Program is a PhD program that allows students to develop projects in close connection to the industry and with a concrete impact in society. This was one of the main reasons that made be interested in this specific program. 

In 2014, you started working with EMBRAER Brazil, how did this opportunity appeared?

It started with a challenge presented by Embraer Portugal and Embraer Brazil to develop advanced technological solutions for the maintenance of their aeronautical equipment. This opportunity came in the follow-up of a project developed in collaboration with Rolls Royce Plc at the MPP program.

Did the MIT Portugal Program contribute to this opportunity?

I believe that my supervisor Elsa Henriques and her previous work combined with the renowned brand of MPP were instrumental to give Embraer the confidence to bet on us to successfully carry out this project.

What did you do while working with EMBRAER?

We worked on close collaboration with Embraer’s research and development team to discover innovative ways to forecast failure and anticipate maintenance needs of aeronautical equipment. Concretely, we worked on a particular valve of the engine system, which was critical to enable the aircraft vital function of air management. This valve was part of a complex system of duct, tapes and valves and seemed to have atypical failure behaviour, almost “unpredictable”.

After that you were invited to do an internship at EMBRAER Brazil/ITA, how was this experience?

ITA is probably one of the most famous engineering institutes of Brazil. It is marked by a drive for excellence and exigency. Having the opportunity to work with some of the brightest people I’ve ever met was a remarkable opportunity. I was very fortunate to work in close direct supervision of Prof. Cairo Lucio Nascimento Jr. and to have direct contact with his students from the Division of Electronic Engineering. It was a great experience both from the cultural and professional point of view.

What is the main core of your research, explain us what have you been working on since 2014.

My research focuses on the development of prognostics techniques for complex and critical systems. Prognostics in this sense, is the science of developing accurate estimates of the remaining useful life of equipment. Simply put, we try to answer the questions of how, when and why a certain piece of equipment may break, fail, degrade or go through a specific health event (such as a battery discharge). I focus in the development of data-driven methods for this aim: the goal here is to use past history to “foresee” future events of interest ahead of time. An example of a data-driven method is the use of neural networks to predict maintenance needs based on online data coming from the sensors of the equipment. In this context we call this “predictive” maintenance opposed to the traditional (more simple) methods of using statistical distributions of past events to forecast failure.  

In 2017 you went to Japan to work with Prof. Helmut Prendinger. Explain us how it went.

I already knew Prof. Helmut Prendinger from a previous internship I had in 2013 in Japan. This opportunity came by through Prof. Rui Prada who establishes the connection between students of INESC-ID and NII in Japan. I was fortunate to be selected among the three internship students of 2013. I eventually came back in 2017 to continue my PhD work in Japan, as Prof. Prendinger is my formal PhD co-supervisor .

How was the personal experience of living in Japan?

I highly recommend going to Japan as this can be an incredible experience at so many levels. It is one of the most developed societies of the world while at the same time a society that exhibits some of the most human traits I have ever seen.  I learned a lot both technically and personally. Having stayed at NII was also a one in a lifetime opportunity has I got to meet people from all over the world. I keep very good memories of that time.

You also did a 3 months stay/internship at NASA, this is a big accomplishment. Is this like a dream come true? What are your expectations?

NASA is fundamentally the people who work there. Needless to say, the people of NASA are among the brightest minds I have ever met. Nevertheless, I found that people NASA are not only exceptionally bright but also humble and naturally nice. It has been a great experience; I can honestly say it is a dream coming true.

Do you know what will you do there and who will you work with?

I have been working with Dr. Shankar Sankararaman and Dr. Kai Goebel from NASA. I am currently working on the development of deep learning techniques for prognostics.

Regarding your PhD you started in 2014, what´s your opinion about the EDAM Doctoral Program?

I have nothing but gratitude towards my teachers, colleagues, mentors and supervisors from the EDAM Doctoral program. It is a great program with close connection to the industry where you actually see what you are studying being applied to the real world. For instance, in my first school year I worked with a multidisciplinary team to develop a new line of belt conveyors for Antipoda, a company in the North of Portugal. It was a great experience. Also, in EDAM you have the opportunity to go to so many great universities and meet so many different people with different backgrounds, cultures and knowledge. I really hope that the EDAM students can promote an actual change in the industry of Portugal.

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

I think having the brand of MIT opens a lot of doors for us. The possibility to visit MIT, to have classes with MIT teachers and to interact with MIT colleagues is perhaps the selling point of this program. Also, the quality of the academic team is of great importance: we get to have access to some of the best teachers in Portugal. The connection to the industry is also important, as I have previously referred. And the people of course, some of my colleagues are my best friends.

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

My thesis is about predictive maintenance and prognostics in aeronautics. I plan to finish it by the end of this year.

You are under Elsa Henriques supervision, how did she  supported through your journey?

Prof. Elsa is amazing. She is not only my supervisor but my mentor and friend. She has a great analytical mind and a big heart. I can honestly say I would not have made it without her or at least it would not have been so much fun. 

Plans for your future?

I would like to continue working with machine learning and artificial intelligence. I think these are going to be two of the most important technologies of the future.

Márcia NASA BRMárcia Baptista (on the right) at the Prognostics Center of Excellence - NASA, USA

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 (https://maismetro.herokuapp.com/)

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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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

Student Profile: Khadija Benis

Khadija

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.