PhD Candidate Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Ben Shaffer, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania, has been awarded the highly competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support inclusive of an annual stipend of $37,000.

In an interview, Ben shared insights into his research interests and the work he’ll be pursuing with this fellowship. His broad focus is on using principles of fluid dynamics and machine learning to develop improved sensing and modeling techniques for geophysical fluid environments like oceans and rivers.

“I’m interested in machine learning at the interface of sensing and control in fluid environments,” Ben explained. “The idea is to use robotic sensing platforms to gather data on large-scale phenomena like oil spills, algal blooms, and upwelling events that can lead to hurricanes.”

By combining distributed sensor data with machine learning models of fluid dynamics, Ben aims to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of how these complex fluid systems evolve over time. This enhanced understanding can enable better predictions, more efficient remediation efforts, improved search and rescue operations, and optimized routing for maritime transportation.

Ben is working with Associate Professors Ani Hsieh and Nat Trask in Penn’s Scalable Autonomous Robots Lab, which is affiliated with GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception) Lab. He pursued this doctoral program after previously working at the Air Force Research Laboratory.