Skip to content

What Does Research Look Like?

September 16, 2020
Sarah Bloom
Symbolic Systems and Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2023

An infographic

Coming into this summer, I had a pretty set idea of what “research” looked like. I’d done some traditional scientific research in high school, and essentially thought of it as a more original lab experiment. I thought this was true especially of energy research.

My summer project blew that notion right out of the water! My lab’s overall goal is to build a low-cost, energy-efficient greenhouse in India for alternately growing and drying chilis depending on the season. This system, called the Advanced Adaptive Agricultural System--or A3S for short--combats the problem that traditional sun-drying of chilis can lead to color fade, flavor loss, fungal infections and crop wastage of 5-50%. A3S uses fans, solar heat covers/tarps, thermal water storage, and rainwater capture to effect chili net income increase of >45%.

The motivation for my personal project was that it’s difficult to visualize results and trends as well as configure a system halfway across the world. My goal for the summer was to build a web application that could show live sensor data from the site, allow for remote configuration of the system, and display visualization of historic sensor data. Their current system at the beginning of the summer was an HTML file and a python script that they emailed back and forth whenever they made changes.

Coming in with programming experience but no background in web development, I was a little nervous. But right off the bat, my research team was incredibly welcoming and helpful. They cultivated a working environment where I was encouraged to ask questions, and their excitement made me even more excited about the project in turn. Adapting to the remote environment was hardest in that I couldn’t directly communicate with my team, but we made do with WhatsApp really well. There was also a lot of communication that happened with the team in India which would have been remote anyways, so the team was well prepared.

I learned so many technical skills this summer, from web app development using Angular to data structuring in Firebase and connecting to IoT platforms. I gained a lot of experience in working with teams across time zones, thinking about the human element of web design, and taking initiative to make my project more thorough and effective. I learned to love the work I was doing, and am so lucky to have been a part of such a wonderful team.

SUPER has taught me that research, even energy research, can be so much more than what it’s traditionally made out to be. My own experience building a web application, hearing about the electronics prototyping projects of my peers, and listening to seminar meetings about social and behavioral initiatives taught me that energy research spans across all disciplines and methods.

For the longest time, I thought that if I wanted to be involved in renewable energy solutions I had to be a chemical or electrical engineer, but now I realize there are so many more ways to pave the way towards a renewable future. Thanks to SUPER, my eyes have been opened to the multitude of pathways in energy research, and given me diverse skills and experience to pursue them.