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Industrial and systems engineering professor views history through engineering lens at campus talk

Marissa McDaid | Sep 30, 2019
Aros Vera

Industrial and systems engineering professor views history through engineering lens at campus talk

Marissa McDaid | Sep 30, 2019

A Russ College assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering quizzed a curious Science Café talk audience in Baker University Center’s Front Room coffeehouse Wednesday about an array of historical dates, during his talk “Interconnected Networked Societies: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name.

Beginning with the June 22, 1941, German invasion of Russia during World War II’s Operation Barbarossa, Felipe Aros-Vera journeyed through the events from the perspective of network modeling. Germany’s defeat was largely an effect of the region’s poor transportation system and an inability to source enough supplies due to interference by Allied powers.

“Instead of focusing on attacking Nazi Germany, what the Russians did was cut their supply lines,” said Aros-Vera.

The talk showed listeners how to assess and resolve issues by examining the various networks in place. For example, the human trafficking crisis can be looked at from the perspective of its observed network interactions.

“What we’re trying to is find a methodology to attack or cripple a network,” said Aros-Vera, noting that when human trafficking criminals are indicted, researchers can use the data to optimize models that show how humans are being transported, what their destination is, and more. The models help determine where the process could be stopped most effectively.

Network modeling can also be used to observe historical events where critical infrastructure was affected, like in September 2003, when a server that controlled a vital substation in Italy went down, causing the country to lose power. In September 2016, Hurricane Maria eliminated several vital networks that left Puerto Rico without electricity, clean water and other necessary resources.

Director of Grant Development Projects in Ohio University’s Graduate College Roxanne Malé-Brune asked how researchers can predict how vulnerable networks are, like in the instance of Puerto Rico.

“That’s the bright side of this kind of research,” said Aros-Vera, “We’re looking at ways in which we can improve the system so that when this happens again – because it will – the island is better prepared. People will be better prepared, and the system will be better prepared.”

Aros-Vera explained we can learn how to improve a network by simulating a flow through an optimization model, then destroying a node, or point, in the network. When the simulation runs again, researchers observe how the network disconnects or is otherwise affected.

“The point of this research is that it gets applied. I don’t want to just write a couple papers that get published and that’s it,” Aros-Vera said. “My dream is to build a decision-support system in which we gather data, we input information, we create rules, and then we decide how to operate or how to proceed.”

Find the full schedule for this year’s OHIO Science Café series at this link.