The tutelage and guidance provided by NETL’s Ruishu Wright as she mentors research associate Abhishek Venketeswaran demonstrates how the Lab is working to apply new concepts to the energy sector while fostering the careers of tomorrow’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) specialists.
Venketeswaran grew up in India and developed a passion for mathematics at an early age, which prompted him to pursue engineering. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. Venketeswaran went on to earn his doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University at Buffalo before joining NETL’s internship program in September 2019 as a post-doctoral research associate administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).
Venketeswaran’s research background is in predictive modeling of physical systems. It involves developing hybrid (multi-physics and machine learning (ML)-based) models to predict the behavior of physical systems. He developed such predictive models for structural systems and an additive manufacturing technology during his undergraduate and graduate studies.
“Utilizing math and physics to predict the behavior of complex systems is very much like solving an intricate puzzle. The harder the puzzle, the more exhilarating an experience it is,” Venketeswaran said. “Some of the most complex modeling problems are associated with energy systems and energy infrastructure. Although challenging, these modeling efforts provide a satisfying reward — the opportunity to discover solutions to help resolve the climate crisis.”
At NETL, Venketeswaran collaborates with a large team of researchers to develop artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced optical fiber-based sensor technologies to monitor the condition of natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure.
“I use ML tools and multi-physics simulation tools to develop advanced analytics for the fiber-optic sensors designed at NETL. We would like to build intelligent capabilities for these sensors so that they can automatically identify critical events such as methane leaks or corroding pipelines,” he said. “These optical fiber sensors have the potential to monitor up to 100 kilometers of the vast U.S. pipeline network simultaneously. Coupling the sensors with cutting-edge AI technologies would enhance the reliability and resilience of U.S. natural gas infrastructure.”
Wright noted that AI and ML concepts, employed so widely across social media and online commerce, have many applications in energy systems. They can enable intelligent sensor networks to ensure clean and resilient energy systems and enhance national security against cyber-attacks and extreme weather events.
As a mentor for NETL’s research associates, she also sees this role as a way of paying it forward to ensure the Lab’s future success.
“I find it very rewarding to see the growth of the research associates and how their careers advance from their internship experience. I also learned a lot through the mentoring experience and am constantly inspired by research associates’ creativity and passion,” Wright said. “I joined NETL many years ago through the internship program as a post-doc myself and found it was a valuable experience with many opportunities and support, so I hope to provide this opportunity to many more talented and committed research associates. I take it as a responsibility to develop the STEM workforce because the goals at DOE and NETL need efforts of many talents to achieve them.”
Venketeswaran said his time at the Lab has provided valuable learning opportunities with a variety of tools and technologies while enhancing his leadership and multitasking skills. When his time with the ORISE program concludes, Venketeswaran said he plans to pursue a data scientist/modeling engineer role working in energy technology.
NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.