QESST student wins NSF's Perfect Pitch competition

December 28, 2017

Sebastian Husein, a scholar in the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies National Science Foundation-Department of Energy Engineering Research Center, won the NSF’s Perfect Pitch competition at its biennial meeting. This marks the second straight time that a QESST student from Assistant Professor Mariana Bertoni’s group has won the $5,000 prize and brought back the Lynn Preston trophy.

Husein, a materials science and engineering doctoral student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, had only 90 seconds to pitch his idea of deploying PV modules to places with interrupted infrastructure, but that was enough time to win over the panel of judges. Photo of Sebastian Husein holding a trophy in a lab. Sebastian Husein became the second consecutive student from Mariana Bertoni's group to bring home the Lynn Preston Trophy after winning the NSF's Perfect Pitch competition. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

“The idea really sprung out of the hurricanes that hit Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico,” Husein said. “It’s a massive humanitarian crisis, especially in Puerto Rico, and the largest needs became obvious very quickly: power and drinkable water. I wanted to highlight an idea that could address both these issues, and the versatility of solar energy is well suited for that.”

Husein titled his idea “Solar Optimized Kit for Emergency Deployment." This deployable floating platform with bifacial solar cells produces energy, even under cloudy conditions, and acts as emergency aid for areas affected by floods and hurricanes. The energy created runs a water purification system, essential for disaster aftermath.

Bertoni, his mentor and professor, and with the DEfECT Lab worked with Husein to develop his idea and perfect his presentation.

“Her enthusiastic support and encouragement is what allows Pablo [Coll] and I to take part in and achieve a lot in competitions like Perfect Pitch,” Husein said. Pablo Guimerá Coll won the competition in 2015 with his project, “Sound Assisted Low Temperature Wafering for Silicon Modules.”

Bertoni, an electrical engineering assistant professor, believes the communication skills used in pitching ideas, a key factor in this competition, are important for engineers.

“Being able to convey complicated ideas in a simple way is a skill that I think every engineer should have,” Bertoni said. “I strongly encourage my students to develop their communication skills and find the right balance of what to say and how to say it based on their audience.”

This win was a step forward for Husein, who is optimistic for the future of renewable energy.

“I’m incredibly excited to see what our society does with renewable energy,” Husein said. “Some say our dependency on fossil fuels will remain for decades and decades, but we’ve already had massive amounts of solar integration.”

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Google Earth Engine workshop gives ASU students way to see world differently

December 28, 2017

Last month, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning hosted a special workshop to introduce students to Google Earth Engine and its geospatial analysis capabilities. Google Earth Engine is a cloud-computing platform that processes satellite imagery and Earth observation data — giving access to an immense catalog of data.

The workshop was presented by guest lecturer Ran Goldblatt from the University of California, San Diego. Goldblatt is a postdoctoral researcher at UCSD and member of the university’s Big Pixel Initiative — a research center focused on investigating and designing best practices in geospatial data visualization, user experience interfaces, and design techniques for scientific discovery and decision-making. Download Full Image

“Satellite imagery and other geospatial data are fundamental for understanding our world and for addressing many of its persistent challenges,” explained Goldblatt. “To really understand our rapidly changing world, we need access to an expanding archive of imagery and to powerful platforms that can be utilized to analyze this vast amount of data. One such platform is Google Earth Engine.”

According to Goldblatt, Google Earth Engine leverages cloud-computational services for planetary-scale analysis and consists of petabytes of geospatial and tabular data, including a full archive of Landsat scenes, as well as scenes from other satellites, together with a JavaScript- and Python-based API, and many algorithms for geospatial analysis. Beyond its technological benefits, Google Earth Engine is free for educational use, and because it runs in Google’s cloud, students do not need expensive software or powerful computers to conduct novel, impactful and data-intensive analyses in an educational context.

“Google Earth Engine is the only platform today that can be used for powerful remote sensing analysis across space and time and that is free of charge for academic use,” said Goldblatt.

Michelle Stuhlmacher, a doctoral student with the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, assisted Goldblatt with the workshop.

“I was excited to help bring more Google Earth Engine users to the university,” she said. “Google Earth Engine is such a powerful tool for satellite image processing, global-level data analysis, and many other big data applications. Knowing Google Earth Engine will allow students, post-docs and faculty at Arizona State University to ask and answer interesting research questions.”

This gained experience will also help students as they leave school and enter the workforce. Remote sensing skills are essential for today’s job market. Photogrammetry was identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as one of the fastest-growing occupations between 2014 and 2024.

“Remote sensing is used in almost every domain: research on global warming, mineral exploration, urban planning, agriculture management and more,” said Goldblatt. “In today’s competitive job market, GIS skills are not enough. Many workplaces now require advanced remote-sensing knowledge and experience with analysis of satellite imagery.”

As a student looking toward her future career options, Stuhlmacher has taken notice of the edge her experience with Google Earth Engine will give her.

“I think Google Earth Engine is a hard skill that makes students more employable because they are able to efficiently answer complex research questions,” she said. “Since becoming part of the Google Earth Engine user community, I have seen several job ads that include Google Earth Engine as a desired skill. As word gets out, I expect even more universities and public- or private-sector jobs including Google Earth Engine in their job ads.”

Goldblatt’s intensive weeklong workshop, based on a course developed by UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, provided ASU students with an introduction to the program and its capabilities. In an effort to help students gain and grow skills related to Google Earth Engine, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is currently in the process of developing its own course for the Fall 2018 semester.

Megan Martin

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Human Evolution and Social Change