Final 12 months, Charlene Xia ’17, SM ’20 discovered herself at a crossroads. She was ending up her grasp’s diploma in media arts and sciences from the MIT Media Lab and had simply submitted purposes to doctoral diploma packages. All Xia might do was sit and wait. Within the meantime, she narrowed down her profession choices, no matter whether or not she was accepted to any program.
“I had two ideas: I’m both going to get a PhD to work on a undertaking that protects our planet, or I’m going to begin a restaurant,” recollects Xia.
Xia poured over her in depth cookbook assortment, researching worldwide cuisines as she anxiously awaited phrase about her graduate faculty purposes. She even appeared into the price of a meals truck allow within the Boston space. Simply as she began hatching plans to open a plant-based skewer restaurant, Xia obtained phrase that she had been accepted into the mechanical engineering graduate program at MIT.
Shortly after beginning her doctoral research, Xia’s advisor, Professor David Wallace, approached her with an attention-grabbing alternative. MathWorks, a software program firm identified for creating the MATLAB computing platform, had introduced a brand new seed funding program in MIT’s Division of Mechanical Engineering. This system inspired collaborative analysis tasks targeted on the well being of the planet.
“I noticed this as a super-fun alternative to mix my ardour for meals, my technical experience in ocean engineering, and my curiosity in sustainably serving to our planet,” says Xia.
From MIT Mechanical Engineering: “Saving Seaweed with Machine Studying”
Wallace knew Xia can be as much as the duty of taking an interdisciplinary strategy to unravel a difficulty associated to the well being of the planet. “Charlene is a exceptional scholar with extraordinary expertise and deep thoughtfulness. She is just about fearless, embracing challenges in nearly any area with the well-founded perception that, with effort, she’s going to turn out to be a grasp,” says Wallace.
Alongside Wallace and Affiliate Professor Stefanie Mueller, Xia proposed a undertaking to foretell and stop the unfold of ailments in aquaculture. The workforce targeted on seaweed farms specifically.
Already well-liked in East Asian cuisines, seaweed holds great potential as a sustainable meals supply for the world’s ever-growing inhabitants. Along with its nutritive worth, seaweed combats varied environmental threats. It helps combat local weather change by absorbing extra carbon dioxide within the environment, and can even soak up fertilizer run-off, protecting coasts cleaner.
As with a lot of marine life, seaweed is threatened by the very factor it helps mitigate in opposition to: local weather change. Local weather stressors like heat temperatures or minimal daylight encourage the expansion of dangerous micro organism resembling ice-ice illness. Inside days, total seaweed farms are decimated by unchecked bacterial development.
To resolve this drawback, Xia turned to the microbiota current in these seaweed farms as a predictive indicator of any risk to the seaweed or livestock. “Our undertaking is to develop a low-cost gadget that may detect and stop ailments earlier than they have an effect on seaweed or livestock by monitoring the microbiome of the surroundings,” says Xia.
The workforce pairs previous expertise with the most recent in computing. Utilizing a submersible digital holographic microscope, they take a 2D picture. They then use a machine studying system often known as a neural community to transform the 2D picture right into a illustration of the microbiome current within the 3D surroundings.
“Utilizing a machine studying community, you possibly can take a 2D picture and reconstruct it nearly in actual time to get an thought of what the microbiome appears to be like like in a 3D house,” says Xia.
The software program might be run in a small Raspberry Pi that might be connected to the holographic microscope. To determine the best way to talk these information again to the analysis workforce, Xia drew upon her grasp’s diploma analysis.
In that work, beneath the steering of Professor Allan Adams and Professor Joseph Paradiso within the Media Lab, Xia targeted on creating small underwater communication gadgets that may relay information in regards to the ocean again to researchers. Relatively than the standard $4,000, these gadgets have been designed to price lower than $100, serving to decrease the price barrier for these serious about uncovering the numerous mysteries of our oceans. The communication gadgets can be utilized to relay information in regards to the ocean surroundings from the machine studying algorithms.
By combining these low-cost communication gadgets together with microscopic photos and machine studying, Xia hopes to design a low-cost, real-time monitoring system that may be scaled to cowl total seaweed farms.
“It’s nearly like having the ‘web of issues’ underwater,” provides Xia. “I’m creating this complete underwater digital camera system alongside the wi-fi communication I developed that may give me the info whereas I’m sitting on dry land.”
Armed with these information in regards to the microbiome, Xia and her workforce can detect whether or not or not a illness is about to strike and jeopardize seaweed or livestock earlier than it’s too late.
Whereas Xia nonetheless daydreams about opening a restaurant, she hopes the seaweed undertaking will immediate folks to rethink how they take into account meals manufacturing generally.
“We should always take into consideration farming and meals manufacturing by way of your complete ecosystem,” she says. “My meta-goal for this undertaking can be to get folks to consider meals manufacturing in a extra holistic and pure manner.”