Student Spotlight: Simon Mak: For the Love of Research

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Canadian-by-birth ISyE Ph.D. student Simon Mak has a background in statistics and actuarial science, with a graduate-level focus on experimental design and emulation of computer experiments. The recipient of numerous scholarships and awards throughout his academic career, Mak recently was awarded the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Postgraduate Scholarship-Doctoral (PGS D) in the amount of $42,000 over 2 years.

In this interview, Mak extensively discusses his research interests and activities as an ISyE student.

Why did you select Georgia Tech and ISyE for your Ph.D. work?

After completing my undergraduate studies in statistics and professional actuarial exams, I worked as an actuary for a period of time. I eventually returned to pursue a doctorate degree, since research opportunities appealed to me much more than the problems encountered in the industry. The ISyE department at Georgia Tech, as one of the leaders in statistics and operations research, presents the ideal avenue for my goals, and I am very fortunate to be studying under the world-class faculty here.

From a high-level perspective, what are your research interests?

My research can be grouped into two categories: experimental design and emulation of computer experiments.

The first category, experimental design, is a systematic way to the relationship between input and output variables in a process by conducting experiments. At a high level, my research involves optimally assign experimental runs over different input combinations so that the maximum information can be extracted on the input-output process.

The second category, emulation of computer experiments, uses statistical tools to predict outputs from computationally expensive computer simulations. Given recent advancements in high-performance computing over the last decade, many engineering experiments can now be simulated on computer desktops and clusters. However, these simulations can still be computationally expensive, and may take weeks or months to complete. To this end, a major part of my research involves using statistical methods to predict these simulations at new settings, using a database of existing simulations.

You have received many awards and scholarships throughout the course of your academic studies. What was particularly meaningful about receiving NSERC’s PGS D scholarship?

Unlike previous awards and scholarships, the PGS D scholarship provides the financial means necessary for me to continue pursuing my goals and aspirations in research.

You are working in conjunction with the School of Aerospace Engineering on the emulation of rocket injector simulations. Describe this project and what you hope to accomplish with your work on it.

This project is a joint collaboration between ISyE and Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech to develop next-generation rocket engines. As mentioned previously, computer simulations are employed to study sources of combustion instabilities for these engines, but may take months to complete for one engine design.

Our work is two-fold as statisticians. First, using a database of existing simulations, an emulator is constructed which can predict flow evolution at a new engine design in a matter of minutes. Second, using this emulator, optimal design settings can be obtained which minimize instabilities in the combustion process. The goal for this project is to combine state-of-the-art emulation tools with high-fidelity simulations to create a new and powerful methodology for rocket engine design.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Research! Just joking. In my free time, I enjoy playing piano, reading, and volunteering.

What does the future look like for you?

After graduation, I am looking to pursue a career in research, hopefully in academia.


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