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Dublin-bound: undergrad researchers win global recognition

Alumni Chelsea Bin Han and Thineshan Kathirchelvan are being honoured for research papers they wrote before graduating from U of T

University of Toronto alumni Chelsea Bin Han and Thineshan Kathirchelvan are heading to Dublin next month to receive medals of academic excellence from the president of Ireland and take part in a global undergraduate summit November 13-15.

Han, a Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies major, and Kathirchelvan, who majored in Aerospace Engineering, graduated earlier this year but are being recognized for research papers they wrote as undergraduates. Kathirchelvan won the Engineering and Mechanical Sciences category with his essay entitled ‘Robust Shape Optimization of NURBS Based Acoustic Reflectors using Stochastic Search Techniques.’ Han won the Business and Economics category with her essay ‘Bretton Woods: doomed failure from the beginning?: the interplay of structural and operational factors in the Gold Pool.'

Han and Kathirchelvan will join scholars and researchers from around the world at the 2013 Undergraduate Awards or UA. They’re following in the footsteps of two U of T alumni who last year travelled to Ireland for the same awards. (Read about last year's winners.)

The competition, which began as a national contest in 2008, is now global and brings 60 students from around the world to take part in what organizers call “Davos for students”.

U of T News spoke with Han and Kathirchelvan about their work and their time at U of T.

What did you study at U of T and why?
: I studied aerospace engineering as part of Engineering Science at UofT. I chose Engineering Science because I was interested in going into biomedical or aerospace engineering in high school. However, as I discovered after two years of going through the program, Aerospace was a more suitable option for me.

Who doesn't love planes and rockets?

Chelsea: I specialized in Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies, a multi-disciplinary program that facilitated my international academic endeavours. I studied abroad at the University of St Andrews (Scotland) from 2010 to 2011 which strengthened my passion for travelling, researched food security in Ghana through an independent research project, and visited South Korea through the International Course Module in 2013.

What are you doing now?
: Currently, I am working at Bombardier Aerospace as an Acoustics and Vibration Engineer. Here, I am exposed to many acoustics and vibration problems being faced in the aerospace industry. My day-to-day role is to make planes quieter, more comfortable, and reliable.

Chelsea: I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford through support from a Mackenzie King Scholarship. Since Professor Emily Gilbert first sparked my research interests in migration, I am analyzing international refugee law and policy-making process where national security and human rights are both considered.

Tell us about your paper.
: Imagine you are sitting in an auditorium listening to a musical performance. The sound that reaches your ears directly from the performer is only a fraction of what constitutes your musical experience. The auditorium you are sitting in actually shapes the sound you hear. By using acoustic mirrors known as reflectors, engineers can redirect the sound to the audience at a given time as well as from a given direction. This is why a violinist playing in your living room sounds much different from one playing at a symphony hall.

In recent times, curved reflectors are being utilized by engineers and architects to gain extra degrees of design freedom. However, designing a curved reflector is a time-consuming process. An optimization design software, SOAR, was developed to automatically shape a reflector so that sound reflections can be directed to a specified audience area from a given source location. This technique uses stochastic algorithms as well as robust optimization methods to achieve solutions that are not only optimal but also not too sensitive to changes.

Chelsea: In my essay, I addressed various factors that contributed to the failure of the Bretton Woods system, which emerged from the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in 1944. I examined the structural deficiencies of the gold standard, which was a system that defined national currencies according to a fixed amount of gold. In light of the economic recession in 2008, which led to a renewed evaluation of the international monetary order, my essay analyzed how the economic behaviours of countries exacerbated the systematic shortcomings of a financial regime.

Why does that subject interest you?
As I discovered during my University life, aerospace and engineering were not the only things that interested me. Certainly, music was a huge driving force and the gravitational pull of music triggered me to create my own studio, TK Productions, as well as a theatre production company, Nuream Entertainment Inc. These ventures allowed me to bring my musical ideas to life while also allowing me to collaborate with many talented musicians in my community. 

Struggling with the choice of finding a career in music or engineering, it was my Professional Experience Year internship with Aercoustics Engineering Limited that fused my pursuit of Engineering to my passion for music. Using acoustic analysis and shape optimization techniques, I helped boost the acoustic characteristics for a variety of performance spaces and recording studios. This experience was so rewarding that I decided to pursue my undergraduate research in bringing techniques from aerospace and acoustics together.

This is how the idea of acoustic reflector shape optimization was born.

Chelsea: As my interdisciplinary education has afforded me an understanding in Political Science, Canadian Studies, Anthropology, Economics, Psychology and Law, my interest in the history of economics has been almost accidental. I wrote my essay in an elective course in hopes of gaining a holistic perspective on economic crises in recent years.

What are you most looking forward to with the trip to Dublin?
I am definitely looking forward to meeting people from all over the world who are passionate about different subjects and disciplines. It is a great opportunity for me to learn about subjects that I have very limited exposure to. As well, I love Irish folk music and so this will be a great opportunity to go see a few concerts in the city. Last but not least, Dublin is known for making excellent beverages. So I will definitely give the factory a visit!

Chelsea: I am looking forward to an intellectually enriching experience where I would be exposed to various perspectives within a global network of promising scholars.

You just graduated this year – can you share some highlights of your time at U of T?
: I am grateful to Professor Prasanth Nair  for working with me and offering his valuable input and insight to make this project a very rewarding experience. As well, I want to thank my colleagues at Aercoustics for giving me great support throughout the process.

The experience I will never forget is having a laugh over a good dinner after a brutal test and skipping lectures to share a few adventures. Shout out to Shy, Ali, Val S., Robert, Tomas, Joe, Val P., and Matt. I apologize for missing many others. They made my time at UofT roll on the floor laughable, exciting, and a great learning experience.  Finally, I want to thank my family for their hard work and support to get me through university.

Chelsea: Professor Emily Gilbert (Chair of Canadian Studies; Geography) has been a guiding light in my academic growth.  I researched border security policies in the Research Opportunity Program with Professor Gilbert in the summer of 2010 and my peers and I won an Undergraduate Research Award (Faculty of Arts and Science) to conduct surveys on border security policies in the Niagara Falls region in 2012. Professor Gilbert supervised my independent thesis project on Canada’s immigration and I presented and published my research on migration and human rights in academic journals and conferences. And the Centre for International Experience and particularly Ms. Julienne Lottering (Safety Abroad Advisor, CIE) provided great support for my educational opportunities abroad.  

My experiences at the University of Toronto were very rewarding in terms of personal and professional growth: attending public lectures and observing sessions at the Department of Astronomy with a friend, Pegah Salbi (PhD candidate, Astronomy); enjoying recreational activities at Hart House and Athletic Center, improving my public speaking skills at Model United Nations conferences in North America and Europe. I developed life-long friendships through various extra-curricular activities at Loretto College and St. Michael’s College.