Guest blogger Shweta Singh
My fascination with engineering and models began when I first worked on an electrical model of logic gates in high school. So, I dreamt of becoming an engineer to build things; to me it was truly an adventurous journey.
Fortunately, in this journey, I landed at Purdue, where Amelia Earhart once resided. Her stories are inspiring and give me courage to do things differently and to tackle the tough problems.
Creating new mathematical models, methods, theories and building products that solve key issues are fun but also bring heartache of lots of rejections. As Earhart said, “The most effective way to do it is to just do it” and ignore anyone discouraging you.
I have learnt in my short time that as long as we do not stop, there will be another day to try our hands on the problem. Believing in your idea and testing it rigorously is a must, along with being willing to accept mistakes and improve it further.
While models of simple electrical circuits inspired me to become an engineer, today I work in the field of industrial ecology on modeling complex interactions of manufacturing networks and ecological/climate systems. Manufacturing provides the very foundation of our existence. We build things to make life better, be it manufacturing chemicals, medicines, cars, planes, houses, textiles, gadgets, etc.
However, waste and emissions from manufacturing is pushing the climate and ecosystem toward unsustainable zone. As there are complex dynamical interactions among these systems, we do not have a clear understanding of how we can operate our manufacturing systems within the limits of ecosystems.
In my group, we focus on answering these fundamental questions for sustainable manufacturing via building mathematical models and computational tools that can allow integration of manufacturing networks functioning within larger ecological systems to maintain ecosystems. Our novel “Process to PIOT” algorithm will allow us to map the complex industrial network interactions in physical units, that will form the foundation of studying these interactions from regional to global scale.
It is a gigantic task; however, I am very optimistic that we can solve this challenge by scaling up our modular and collaborative PIOT-Hub platform. Mapping our large industrial ecosystem will help us design cleaner, resilient and sustainable manufacturing systems – that can adapt to changing ecosystems, sudden shocks and meet the ever-changing demands.
This is what future manufacturing should look like – with a better understanding and adaptability in relationship with ecological systems on large scale. Whether we continue living on earth or build a society on Mars, wherever we go, we need to “build to adapt” to the space we occupy and respect the limits of that space. I aim to begin on Earth.
Shweta Singh is an Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. Her research interests range from systems scale modeling, coupled natural and human (CNH) systems modeling, complex systems theories for sustainability assessment, Industrial ecology, Urban Sustainability and enhancing methodologies for sustainability assessment.