Math professor
gets 3-year grant
in ocean robotics

The UH research will go toward
developing underwater vehicles

A University of Hawaii assistant math professor is working with the engineering department to apply mathematics to the development of robotic underwater vehicles.

Monique Chyba has received a $250,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for the project.

Chyba said it's an achievement for the math department and for her, the only female professor in the department.

"It can show women that they can do stuff in science," she said, adding that she hopes it will be an incentive to undergraduate female math students.

Chyba, who joined UH last August, said she worked with space robotic vehicles at the National Center of Scientific Research in France but this is her first experience with underwater robots.

"My colleagues are very supportive," she said. "I wanted to go in the direction of applied mathematics, and they were very interested in someone who can do application and theoretical mathematics."

Also, she said, "It's like fish in the water at this university" because of an autonomous systems laboratory in the Mechanical Engineering Department that works on robotic vehicles for deep-ocean work. The scientists formed a spinoff company, Marine Autonomous Systems Engineering, to solve development problems.

"It is giving me an opportunity to use them to do experiments, so that is really wonderful because if I had to build them, it would be almost impossible," Chyba said.

She is working with Song Choi, associate director of the UH autonomous lab, which earlier this year demonstrated two robots built by researchers and students there.

"Since mathematics and physics are the core of engineering, it is imperative that engineers obtain a great understanding of these core subjects, which in turn may provide clearer insights to theories," Choi said.

For underwater technologies, he said, "Mathematical modeling of the underwater environment and the estimation of vehicle hydrodynamic coefficients are virtually impossible and extremely time-consuming."

It's hoped collaboration between the math and engineering departments will lead to innovative research in underwater robotics, he added.

Chyba said she's trying to understand the mathematics governing the motions so she can suggest different techniques to improve the speed or efficiency of the vehicles.

A graduate student in mechanical engineering will work with her on experiments, and she is hiring undergraduate students in math and computer science for the team.


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