ASU grad pairs history major, robotics engineering at Polytechnic campus

May 4, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Chloe-Marie H. Fox is graduating with concurrent bachelor’s degrees from Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus that may seem like a mixed-media mashup: one in history (with a focus on religion) from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, and the other in robotics engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Headshot of Chloe-Marie Fox. Chloe-Marie Fox missed taking humanities classes so added a concurrent major in history to her robotics engineering major at ASU Polytechnic campus. Fox is continuing her studies at ASU in the Master of Science in robotics and autonomous systems (systems engineering). Photo by Henry Lu/ASU College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Download Full Image

“The first is my passion, and I picked it up for fun and the love of learning,” Fox said. “The second is my career.”

Fox, who is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College, grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and always had her sites set on ASU.

“I couldn’t wait to be a Sun Devil like my mum! My mum and Uncle Joseph both graduated from ASU and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”

Fox entered ASU with a declared major in robotics engineering and 30 credits, due to the early college program available during high school in partnership with Chandler Gilbert Community College.

“So as a freshman, I had already completed most all of my humanities credits and was taking solely science, math and engineering courses,” explained Fox, who got hooked on engineering at a VEX Robotics event at a local library where the kids were tasked with designing their own robots to pick up blocks. “I had enjoyed that event so much that my mum signed me up for a robotics camp at ASU my sophomore year of high school and it just solidified for me that I wanted to be a robotics engineer. But I realized my first year at ASU that I missed taking humanities courses.

“I did some digging into the major maps and realized that most of my transfer credits worked with the history major,” Fox said. “I was ecstatic! I loved learning about history in high school and couldn’t wait to dive into more specific topics! So I applied for concurrent degrees and here we are!”

Fox said it feels amazing to be pursuing opposite majors.

“They may not seem to go together in a normal way, but they both help me view the world in different realms and thus I get to see the bigger picture.”

The beauty and applied learning at ASU Polytechnic campus really agreed with Fox, who said a favorite spot on campus for studying or meeting friends was the Innovation Hub classrooms.

“No matter what subject it was or if we were all working on different classes, that is where we would meet and it was amazing." 

Fox shared some more about her ASU experience and future plans.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Truthfully, I have learned a lot. I have learned about so many different historical events, religions and all sorts of academic knowledge. I have learned a lot about myself, too. Like, coffee is amazing and helps to write papers, and that I think I needed both subjects — history and engineering — to feel well rounded in my academic career. I love to learn, and to be able to graduate with two degrees showcases my love of the pursuit of knowledge.

Q: Thinking back, what do you think is the most interesting moment or story or accomplishment in your ASU journey?   

A: I love to read, so any book that is required for a class I keep. I have a mini library of historical and engineering textbooks. If I get immersed into a book, once I finish the book I’ll then immediately tell my friends and end up giving a mini lecture about what it was. My friends are not history majors, but they fully listen to the stories I tell them. I received the best compliment from one of them, who said the way I engage in the history lesson and how I light up telling them information makes it interesting to learn about history, when they previously did not care for the subject. It was nice to be told that my passion for history is shown when I talk about it, and I take that as a big accomplishment.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU and what was it?

A: Out of all my professors I really enjoyed Dr. Debra Neill’s classes, HST 361: Witchcraft and Heresy in Europe and HST 309: Exploration and Empire. I think the valuable lesson I learned from her classes is that there are always two sides to the story. As historians we must look at every angle to see the full picture. There is always more to learn.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: One: Do not wait until the last minute to write a 10-page paper — it worked out for me due to the sheer volume of coffee consumed, but I don’t recommend it. Two: There is always more to learn. Three: "First do what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And before you know it you are doing the impossible." — A quote by Saint Francis Assisi. That quote has kept me going and now I am graduating with two majors and am working toward a master’s degree. You can do anything you want to do; just start in small steps and soon you’ll be taking strides.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be continuing my education by pursuing my Master of Science in robotics and autonomous systems (systems engineering).

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: My first thought is how to teach others to be open minded. How can we teach others to look for the full truth of the matter? How can money go toward that?

My second thought would be using the money to create a device that would purify water so that people can have access to clean water. The money would go to design and implementation of devices in countries that need it.

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Streamlining situational awareness

ASU researchers invent new algorithm to improve power grid reliability, safety

May 4, 2023

Reliable and safe electric power is the heartbeat of modern society. Anyone who has lost power for a significant amount of time knows how much it can upend life, from food spoiling without proper refrigeration to being unable to work because essential equipment can’t be powered on.

Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and her doctoral student Zahra Soltani have developed an algorithm to reduce the impact of power outages and malfunction damage to devices connected to the power grid. Electrical engineering doctoral student Zahra Soltani and Assistant Professor of electrical engineering Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman together in a computer lab. Electrical engineering doctoral student Zahra Soltani (left) and Assistant Professor of electrical engineering Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman operate a computer program to monitor power grid status. The pair developed an algorithm to improve electrical grid situational awareness. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

“This technology enhances situational awareness, which is key for improving power system resilience,” Khorsand Hedman said.

Assessing the situation of the power grid

Having power grid situational awareness means knowing the current status of three power grid parameters: network connectivity, referred to as breaker or switch status; the system state, which is the current voltage and power level flowing through the grid; and the location of outages affecting the grid.

Currently, situational awareness technology uses two software modules to measure these parameters. One module verifies topology information that indicates which medium voltage lines, used for power distribution to customers, are live, reflecting network connectivity and switch status. The other module determines system state.

“These functionalities are highly dependent on the availability of measurements throughout the distribution network,” Khorsand Hedman said. “Such measurement devices are scarce and often not available. Thus, these modules are not fully utilized.”

This new, more complex algorithm developed by Khorsand Hedman and Soltani identifies all the necessary parameters at once while improving accuracy and the speed at which the network connectivity and system states are identified.

Instead of using measurements from a limited number of devices that may not provide the full picture of a grid’s status, Khorsand Hedman and Soltani’s algorithm uses data from homes’ individual smart meters. This eliminates the need to install a large number of measurement devices in a power grid’s distribution network and telecommunication of the devices’ data to utility control centers.

The growing presence of electric vehicles and distributed power generation resources — like those generating electricity in areas scattered around the grid through devices such as solar technology and windmills — inspired Soltani to come up with the idea for the algorithm.

“Successful transition from the conventional distribution system to this new paradigm requires accurate distribution network modeling and efficient management of these resources,” she said.

Soltani explained that greater accuracy in situational awareness is necessary because modern grids’ increasingly distributed energy resources cause higher variability in grid conditions. Some of the power flows back into the high-voltage grid from these resources, and the variability in the amount of power generated creates fluctuations in the net demand the grid experiences, as well as both the amount and direction of power flow.

The research provided Soltani with the chance to advance her skills in using math and data to model and optimize power grid functions. Ultimately, she plans to continue using these skills after graduation in her career.

“Working with Dr. Khorsand Hedman has been a valuable experience for me,” Soltani said. “Her knowledge and expertise in power systems and optimization, as well as her mentorship and guidance, were invaluable in my research.”

Amping up electric utility service

The researchers intend for the technology, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, or ARPA-E, to improve electric power service for customers by reducing the duration of outages and making the voltage sent to customers more stable. This can also reduce the potential impact of damage due to malfunctions to devices plugged into the grid.

By being able to pinpoint power grid issues with greater accuracy and speed, the new algorithm helps make utility workers' jobs easier and solve outages and malfunctions faster. This increased situational awareness also helps electric utilities determine local demand and fulfill it based on distributed power generation resources like rooftop solar panels.

Khorsand Hedman and Soltani successfully tested the algorithm with an electric utility company in Arizona. Currently, the technology has a provisional patent, which means the researchers have 12 months of protection on their technology until a permanent patent is filed. ASU is also in discussions with interested industry parties to license the technology.

Demonstrating algorithmic capabilities in a lab setting

Khorsand Hedman’s students can look forward to getting a firsthand look at how their research can impact power grid workers’ experience. She is in the process of developing a lab that simulates a utility company’s control room. This lab will demonstrate her and Soltani’s algorithm, as well as other power grid algorithmic innovations, to show off its capabilities compared to traditional solutions.

The lab will also let electrical engineering students gain experience working in a simulated utility control room environment using the various types of software they would work with at a utility company.

“The lab promotes and facilitates collaboration,” Khorsand Hedman said. “It will be used to enhance the learning experience for students in power courses, especially our graduate-level course, Power Systems Operation and Planning.”

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering