The Department of Mechanical Engineering is extremely proud to announce that Dr. Aowabin Rahman is this year’s ME Dissertation-of-the-Year recipient. He was recognized by the department during the May 3, graduation reception held in the Rio Tinto Kennecott Mechanical Engineering Building. All dissertations submitted to the department are rigorously reviewed by the six faculty members of the Graduate Committee. The criteria for this award includes intellectual merit, broader impacts, and use of creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts. All of which Rahman achieved at the highest level.

Advised by assistant professor Amanda Smith, and member of the Site Specific Energy Systems Lab, Rahman performed creative and groundbreaking research working at the forefront of energy modeling and machine learning applications as a Ph.D. student. He produced papers that were recognized by his peers, including a 2018 paper that now has almost 40 citations, and have been published in relevant, reputable journals, including two in Applied Energy (IF = 7.9). His first conference paper, presented at the ASME 2015 Energy Sustainability Conference, won a Best Paper award from the Advanced Energy Systems division—even though he was qualified for the Best Student Paper competition, he was recognized instead for Best Paper overall.

Rahman’s novel interdisciplinary work and his accomplishments throughout his Ph.D. program have resulted in an exemplary dissertation: “Applications of Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Reduced-order Models in Building Energy Simulation.” In it, he used artificial intelligence techniques for predicting energy consumption, particularly deep learning techniques, in a way that was completely novel within the field of building energy modeling. He was able to present and develop his own ideas at a very early stage in his graduate career. He was able to grasp the fundamental concepts being used at the forefront of machine learning research, typically in applications like natural language processing, and transfer them to an entirely new application with success. His strong mathematical and computational skills, along with his personal drive and curiosity, have allowed him to work at the forefront of multiple fields simultaneously.

“Trademarks Rahman displayed while a Ph.D. student was his extraordinary level of intellectual openness and curiosity, combined with a highly developed skill for clarity in his ability to convey new ideas, which is unusual among graduate students,” said Prof. Amanda Smith. “He enjoyed finding new, complex and interdisciplinary problems, and would not hesitate to seek out additional skills and knowledge to tackle a challenge in a new way.  When he gained new and useful insight on a specific concept or technique, he was then eager to share his knowledge by teaching others as well. He held a consistently positive attitude and was well respected by his colleagues, serving as a mentor and technical advisor to other members of the group.”

Dr. Rahman is currently an impressive independent researcher with a great ability to learn complex concepts on his own. With his expertise in machine learning and his newfound understanding of molecular dynamics, he has established himself as a critical member of a $15M NASA research institute spanning 11 universities and charged with designing next-generation, ultra-high-strength aerospace materials. He is in an elite group of researchers with expertise in machine learning who also have domain expertise in mechanical engineering. Dr. Rahman is on his way to making big impacts in the field of materials design for NASA, and to establishing himself as a leader who brings machine learning solutions to cutting-edge scientific problems in Mechanical Engineering.