SUBJECT: Ph.D. Proposal Presentation
BY: Stephen Malone
TIME: Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 8:00 a.m.
PLACE: MRDC Building, 4211
TITLE: Ecologically Inpired Refinement of Engineered Systems
COMMITTEE: Dr. Bert Bras, Chair (ME)
Dr. Marta Hatzell (ME)
Dr. Katherine Fu (ME)
Dr. Marc Weissburg (Biological Sciences)
Dr. Astrid Layton (ME (Texas A&M University))


The design stage offers the greatest impact potential on the sustainable outcome of engineered systems and current sustainability-geared tools offer insightful and important details in the pursuit of more sustainable human systems. However, they fail to address the problem of how to effectively design circular production systems analogous to, and to the performance levels of, those occurring in mature natural ecosystems. This work seeks to provide insight into the conceptual design phase of complex engineered systems that exhibit higher resource efficiency than conventional designs by leveraging and focusing on the decomposer functional role found throughout natural ecosystems, but often lacking or missing altogether in engineered systems.

A generalized mathematical modeling methodology is developed and used to model any engineered system and its subcomponents analogous to a natural ecosystem food web. Missing decomposer roles in this mathematically modeled engineered system are identified through comparative studies of mature natural ecosystems using statistical methods and algorithmic approaches. A researched and classified collection of technological, biological, or hybrid systems identified and optimized to mimic the decomposer roles from ecological systems is applied to augment the modeled system to address material or energy performance gaps. This methodological approach is tested and applied to several engineered systems then ensure validity and flexibility in a design application.