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.