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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Spotlight: Summer 2020

Team Leader

“Drone” was a new term when Philly Croteau ’10 Th’10 Th’11 joined Physical Sciences Inc. to develop small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). The Andover, Mass.-based company has since expanded activities to InstantEye Robotics, where he heads engineering operations. “It’s founded on the ENGS 21 approach,” says Croteau. “The skills learned to meet tight timelines across multiple domains in a small group leads to very effective systems engineers.” His cross-functional team exemplifies this philosophy, with Thayer alums bringing various talents to the table: Louis Buck ’10 Th’11 Th’13 leads the software team, Dave Manegold ’02 Th’07 Th’08 heads system controls, and Jordan Nesmith ’11 Th’12 oversees mechanical development. The group is focused on designing and producing sUAS for the military, law enforcement, and first responders. The U.S. Civil Air Patrol used their units to survey damage in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian last summer. The U.S. Marine Corps, along with all other branches of the U.S. military, has fielded InstantEye systems. In the works is a prototype to detect radiological or nuclear threats and a compact unit that uses sonar, cameras, and onboard gyros to map indoor spaces. On the horizon Croteau sees opportunities to refine the InstantEye systems to better support force protection. “The underpinning goal is to deliver high-quality kits to the men and women who put on Kevlar to go to work,” he says. “Our overall mission is not to create a catchy gadget, but rather to develop a system that is tailored to the folks protecting us and improve their chances of getting home safe to their families.” 

“Design Thinker”

Human-centered design minor Devyn Greenberg ’17 is preparing to pursue a joint master’s in business administration and public policy as a Stanford University Knight-Hennessy scholar. “My vision is to build more empathetic and equitable public services through the lens of design thinking and design processes,” says the government major. At Dartmouth, Greenberg learned how to “immerse myself in diverse settings and bring a learner’s mindset to those spaces.” She participated in a foreign study program in Morocco, served as an intern at the White House, was an exchange student at the University of Oxford, and worked with incarcerated women in art and theater workshops. After graduation, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Rabat, Morocco, where she taught English at the National Architecture School and volunteered at the Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. She credits the design thinking course ENGS 12 with her innovative mindset: “I’m a passionate design thinker who dreams of building radical collaboration around our toughest global issues.”

Groundbreaker

Xinzhang “Andy” Li Th’96 did some heavy lifting as project manager for the lowering of historic 3900 Wisconsin Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C. Developers converting the former Fannie Mae headquarters into a Wegmans-anchored development needed to move the entire foundation underneath the 60-plus-year-old building to make way for the grocery store. Li, senior associate with structural engineering firm Tadjer-Cohen-Edelson Associates Inc., was charged with safely lowering the existing basement slab foundation 7 to 12 feet to create the supermarket’s required ceiling height. “To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a similar project done in the U.S. construction industry,” says Li. He modeled the building using the RAM structural system 3-D program. The goal was to prevent damage to the existing foundations while they supported the building. He created an open space by removing 11 columns and designing new mini piles around the existing foundations to temporarily support its 108 columns, remove the existing foundation, and extend the columns with new foundations. The engineering feat resulted in less than a few millimeters of settlement and no new cracks. The $640-million mixed-use development is scheduled to open in 2022.

The Visionary

Future battles will be fought with new tools using new rules. That’s the premise behind the latest book by William Davidow ’57 Th’58. In The Autonomous Revolution: Reclaiming the Future We’ve Sold to Machines (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), he
describes how the rise of artificial intelligence and virtual environments are ushering in an epic cultural transformation as decisive as the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. Davidow has the Wall Street cred to draw on: He was Intel’s senior vice president of marketing and sales—credited with inventing modern high-tech marketing—and cofounded the venture capital firm Mohr Davidow in 1985. Now he’s considering how companies can meet emerging challenges as AI-based machines replace humans and online environments gather data that can be used in cybercrime and propaganda. His recommendations—such as using taxes to control irresponsible internet behavior and enabling people to put their data into virtual “safety deposit boxes”—may offer the tools to thrive during the next revolution.

Bright Light

Emily Hannah ’16 has been focused on lasers since earning an engineering sciences degree. She built LIDAR lasers at Bridger Photonics after graduation, and now pursues PhD research at the University of Colorado Boulder on the effects of turbulent air on the propagation of lasers. “We see the effects of this in the twinkling of stars as well as in heat waves over a road on a hot day,” she says. “Optical turbulence has a particularly deleterious effect on laser ranging, or LIDAR, where distance is measured using the time-of-flight of laser pulses.” It’s a field that has tremendous implications as LIDAR is increasingly used to map land and water, model pollution, and drive autonomous vehicles. Hannah recently earned a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, and she anticipates a career studying optics at either a national lab or in industry. “Dartmouth and Bridger Photonics have helped contextualize academic research for me: I often think about the impact of sometimes esoteric research efforts on broader industry and technology trends,” she says. “It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of quality writing and good storytelling in scientific research.”

New Reality

As the new president of Synapse Product Development, Jeff Hebert ’04 Th’06 is more job coach than engineer. “I’ve always tended to assess my performance based on my personal output, but this new role prioritizes enablement and communication. It’s about how I set other people up for success,” says Hebert, who oversees about 160 people in offices in San Francisco, Orlando, and his home base in Seattle. He started at Synapse 10 years ago as a project manager, then moved to VP of engineering. “One of my earliest projects at Synapse was with Nike,” he says. “We embedded force-sensitive resistors along with inertial sensors into shoes to detect foot pressure and motion for basketball and training with custom algorithms running between the shoes and on a mobile phone application.” Hebert sees more opportunities to create innovative hardware to connects users with the digital world. “People will always be the center of the equation,” he says, “with input mechanisms like gesture recognition and eye tracking as well as broader sensory inputs that add contextual awareness to the rudimentary digital assistants we know today, such as Siri and Alexa.”

The Enforcer

Engineering sciences major Jim Payne ’81 credits his technical training for his ability to navigate the environmental laws governing the United States. “Every day my Thayer education has helped me counsel and litigate amidst complex scientific and technical topics,” says Payne, currently deputy general counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, overseeing legal advice and litigation across the federal environmental statutes. He previously served as deputy head of EPA’s Midwest office in Chicago and general counsel for its south-central office in Dallas and conducted environmental enforcement and defense litigation at the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. His favorite case to date: New York v. United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a federal statute that compelled each state to develop a disposal facility for radioactive waste generated within the state. “The court relied on my amicus brief filed on behalf of 14 states and struck the compulsory provision, holding that state officials are accountable to the citizens who elect them and the Tenth Amendment protects against such federal control,” he says. “At Dartmouth I set a goal to testify before Congress on improving environmental protections. I was happy to meet the goal when I testified on improving environmental protection and worker safety in the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.”

Big Green Legacy

“I’m sort of green all over,” says Jim Wooster III ’59 Tu’60 Th’60. His father, James ’26, and uncle, John ’30, ensured he knew about Dartmouth growing up. And although he visited other campuses, “nothing could surpass Dartmouth,” Wooster says. “So, there I was—and here I am!” Sixty years after graduating, the Hanover resident’s ongoing commitment to the College and its community has earned him a 2019-20 Dartmouth Alumni Award. Since retiring from a career with New York Telephone, Wooster has served as a board member of the Hanover Conservancy and the Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire and overseen downhill ski racing for the winter Special Olympics. The avid hiker “adopted” a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Hanover. He has also served as alumni councilor, longtime class agent, and admissions interviewer and was named the 2003 Class President of the Year. And as the head of a Big Green family—including two sons, two daughters-in-law, and one grandchild—Wooster says, “I just really feel part of the whole Dartmouth community.”

Timely Connections

Radio frequency identification (RFID) “is one of the enabling technologies for the Internet of Things,” says Ken Horton ’76, who has worked in the field since 2008. “Businesses can automatically gather real-time information about their assets and their processes.” To capture that competitive edge, he cofounded Vizinex in 2012. The company was highlighted as a 2019 Top Supply Chain Project by Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazine, and he reports revenues are up 500 percent since its first year. Medical devices are Vizinex’s biggest market, and he expects that trend to continue. For example, the company’s RFID has been used to pair a “parent” (the brain) device to “children,” the scopes or actuators that touch a patient during a procedure. “This enables the parent to properly use the child device and to track the child device’s life cycle,” says Horton. “When the procedure is complete, the child device will be cleaned and sterilized in preparation for the next use.” As CEO of the Bethlehem, Pa.-based firm, Horton handles sales and marketing and oversees 16 people, including nine in manufacturing and three engineers. The engineering sciences major says working with the right people is essential: “The successful teams I have been on or led have consisted of self-starters who understand their role and their objectives, and they can get to those objectives without a lot of prodding.”

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

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