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Visiting Faculty Provide Research Capabilities at Carderock

By Kelley Stirling, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | Sept. 6, 2016


Visiting professors at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) in West Bethesda, Maryland, wrapped up their summer tours and headed back to their universities in August.

Carderock Division's Director of Research Dr. Jack Price said these tours not only give professors an opportunity to provide their expertise and knowledge to different professional areas of Carderock, but also allow them to gain some practical experience in naval problems.

"It helps researchers get in touch with what the Navy does," Price said. "By working at the Navy laboratories, they get to understand a little more what the naval aspects of the problems of the research are and they can focus their research that way."

Professors Dr. Vladas Pipiras and Dr. Themistoklis Sapsis had the opportunity to provide their expertise to projects that help to predict what a ship might do in the most extreme conditions, especially conditions that are not likely to even occur. And working with Dr. Vadim Belenky, a naval architect with the Simulations and Analysis Branch, the two professors have spent numerous hours analyzing data based on statistics, dynamics and numerical hydrodynamics.

This particular multi-disciplinary research provides input from several different disciplines to try to determine the outcome of something that rarely happens. Belenky explained that it is very difficult to create experiments for these extreme occurrences.

"It would be like trying to figure out how many umbrellas will be sold in London based on the popularity of white shirts in Rio de Janeiro," Belenky said, adding a little humor to the equation.

Pipiras, originally from Lithuania, is the director of the Mathematical Decision Sciences Program with the Department of Statistics and Operations Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is his fourth summer as a visiting professor at Carderock. Even though he is young compared to other professors of his caliber, his research in the statistics is well-known in the mathematics community, Belenky said.

In basic terms, the three researchers are working together to extrapolate data from the recorded motion of a ship to then come up with the data that might support how the ship would react in a much more extreme situation that has not and will not likely be observed.

"This is a difficult process even though there is statistical methodology and justification," Pipiras said. Pipiras is researching the statistics of the data acquired. But statistics alone is not enough, and that's where Sapsis comes in.

Sapsis is an associate professor of mechanical and ocean engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his specialty in this research is dynamics, specifically stochastic dynamics, meaning randomly determined.

"We use statistics to describe a predicted response, and we use dynamics to qualitatively describe what we should see," Belenky said. Together, the research provides a useful prediction for the Navy and the commercial shipping industry.

Sapsis' work at MIT has been focusing on the understanding of rare events in complex dynamical systems. He believes that new mathematical methods are essential for the description and understanding of extreme events.

"I feel my work has impact on real Navy challenges," Sapsis said. "Special aspects of my research and work apply directly to what we are doing."

Carderock benefits from the summer faculty as well, according to Price.

"Having them here helps our researchers get in touch with an academic community, which is getting increasingly difficult to do," Price said. "It's hard to get out into the rest of the world, and this gives them the opportunity to do that, to reach out into the academic community where some exciting research is going on."

Pipiras believes he provides a perspective of statistical methodologies and techniques being used in the lab that the Navy might not have used before or perhaps need to be updated.

Carderock's summer faculty program is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research through their education and outreach department. There are several programs available to professors, as well as high-school, undergraduate and graduate students. ONR also sponsors a sabbatical leave program, which provides science and engineering faculty members fellowship appointments for anywhere between one semester and a year.

Dr. Shapour Azarm, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland in College Park, is doing both. Azarm is working with Carderock's Dr. Yu Tai Lee in the Computational Analysis and Design Branch. Although he has just completed a nine-month sabbatical and then a 10-week summer faculty program at Carderock, Azarm and Lee have been working together on their research for several years.

"We met in the ONR-sponsored workshops," Azarm said, referring to the research they have done on certain problems for the Navy.

Lee said he invited Azarm to apply to the faculty programs because Azarm is a renowned expert in the field of optimization, and he felt Azarm could contribute to some of the problems they face in systems designs. And like Pipiras and Sapsis, Azarm is working on his problems from a multi-disciplinary aspect, more so for different types of system optimization than different types of research.

The problem Azarm and Yu Tai are tackling is in computer-aided optimal design, where certain techniques like modeling and simulation are used to optimize the design of a system. And that system can be anything, such as the structure, engines, weapons, etc. But an entire ship can be a complex system, Azarm said.

"Given our current computational power, we only focus on certain aspects of the ship," Azarm said. "My expertise is developing techniques for optimizing that system."

Together, Azarm and Lee are working on optimizing a system where some uncertainty might exist or where all the information is not known. They have published a conference paper, "Multi-Objective Robust Optimization Formulations with Operational Flexibility and Discretized Uncertainty," which was briefed by both Azarm and Lee at different engineering conferences.

"Optimization is gradually becoming a necessary tool in order to get the optimal system design," Lee said.

He also said having Azarm at Carderock for an entire year has been a great experience.

"I appreciate his contributions," Lee said. "We learn things from him every day."

Azarm plans to take what he has learned and developed at Carderock to his University of Maryland classes. He will be teaching a graduate-level class in the spring semester called multi-disciplinary engineering optimization. As part of that, Azarm will discuss the topic of robust optimization and the specific work he did at Carderock with Lee, including some things he learned as a result of that interaction.

"That's the interesting thing about our life as a researcher," Azarm said. "You have to constantly learn something new and update your knowledge base. And that makes our work interesting."

Both Lee and Belenky recognized the support Price provides in the faculty programs at Carderock.

Price wants to see the visiting faculty members to act as recruiters for Carderock when they go back to their universities. Carderock has multiple programs available to college-level students that would not only provide employment to them after graduation, but also give Carderock the new engineers, mathematicians and scientists it needs to replace an aging workforce.

Price is also looking to expand the program. In addition to the 12 visiting faculty members at the West Bethesda location this year, there were two Combatant Craft participants at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The goal is to also get faculty members connected to the Carderock facility at Naval Base Kitsap, Bangor, Washington.

"Making these connections moves the field forward," Price said. "It's exciting to see and that's what I love about the program."