Researcher of the Month
Civil Engineering, Class of 2022
Research Mentors: Dr. Ali Farhadzadeh, Dept. of Civil Engineering, CEAS, and School of Marine & Atmospheric
Sciences; Dr. Kedar Kirane, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, CEAS
Ephraim Bryski is a senior in Civil Engineering who has tackled multiple undergraduate research projects during his four years at Stony Brook by connecting with supportive faculty mentors in Civil Engineering/SoMAS, and Mechanical Engineering. In the first semester of freshman year, Ephraim joined the Coastal and Hydraulic Engineering Research Lab (CHERL) of Dr. Ali Farhadzadeh (Civil Engineering, CEAS; SoMAS). Currently he is doing preliminary experiments on designs to increase the effectiveness of oyster reefs for wave attenuation and shore protection, and received funding support to work on this project in summer 2021. His previous work in Dr. Farhadzadeh's group on the motion of flood-borne debris, in particular developing an object tracker in MATLAB to follow debris from video footage, led to a URECA presentation in 2019 as well as a recently co-authored publication in the Journal of Hydraulic Engineering. He also worked on creating a map of Lake Erie coastal structures with ArcGIS.
In his sophomore year, Ephraim also joined the Materials and Mechanics Lab of Dr. Kedar Kirane (Mechanical Engineering, CEAS) where he has learned to use molecular dynamics to study quasi-brittle strength distribution in silica, has analyzed the size effect of creep in brittle rock, and developed models of rock beams and run simulations in Abaqus.
In summer 2019, Ephraim participated in the NHERI REU (National Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure-Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program at O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, where he had the opportunity to analyze the effect of elevation on flooded coastal structures through MATLAB and be part of a large collaborative research project. A poster presentation from this experience is linked here.
Looking back on these varied experiences, Ephraim reflects on the at-times frustrating pace of research, noting: “at the end of the day, ...you're exploring, you're trying to learn about stuff you don’t know. Remind yourself that this is largely a learning experience. So don't be too stressed out when things don’t go according to plan. That's kind of the fun of it.”
On campus, Ephraim has been involved as a Peer Tutor (for Calculus I-III) in the Academic Success and Tutoring Center since September 2019; and as a member of the Concrete Canoe Team since 2019. He also served as the Secretary of the Stony Brook Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (August 2019-August 2021). Ephraim took the initiative to work on an educational-study website for civil engineers ( seeciv.com) to provide interactive 3D visuals on fundamental course topics. The website has gained positive feedback and was recommended in Stony Brook’s Solid Mechanics course for supplementary study.
Ephraim has been featured on the Civil Engineering website; he plans to continue in the accelerated master’s program in Civil Engineering following his graduation with his B.E. degree in May. His hobbies include: running, biking, swimming, and rowing; writing poems and stories; and listening to podcasts on a range of topics. Ephraim is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical HS, Brooklyn, NY. Below are excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen : How did you first get started in research at Stony Brook? What are you currently working on?
Ephraim: So I've been working with Dr. Farhadzadeh in Civil Engineering/SoMAS since the beginning of freshman year. My first project involved video tracking of debris to predict debris motion during storms. My current project with Dr. Farhadzadeh is about oyster reef shore protection. Since sophomore year, I’ve also been involved in Dr. Kirane’s group in Mechanical Engineering, where we use molecular dynamics simulations of silica to determine their strength distribution. I also did an REU, the summer after freshman year, in Oregon.
When I started at Stony Brook, I knew that I liked engineering, but I also wanted to study the underlying principles behind it, so I thought that research would allow me to apply what I was learning while really being able to see what's going on. I reached out to Dr Farhadzadeh early on in freshman year because I knew that I was interested in coastal engineering and hydraulics. I like the fact that you could look at physical principles behind what's happening in the natural world. That really excited me. The idea that you could use physics to solve these kinds of problems.
Did you have any background initially in doing this type of work?
In that initial project on debris motion assigned to me, I got plunged into the data analysis side of things, and basically my role was to create a video tracker, to develop code for looking at debris motion statistically. That was my first experience doing research, and it was overwhelming, especially because it was in freshman year. I didn't know anything about MATLAB going into it, so there was definitely a very steep learning curve… and I wasn’t sure I would be able to solve some of the problems that arose. But it was very rewarding, the moments when things came together and a year later, the work eventually got published. It was nice to see all that leading to a meaningful, clear result, one that hopefully will lead to other work.
And after that, you moved on to additional projects in Dr. Farhadzadeh’s group?
Yes. Currently we’re looking at oyster reefs as an effective way of protecting the harbor and coast. I'm actually creating a scale model of these reefs. The really nice thing about this project is that this is the first time where I was able to do an experiment from the very beginning. This time, I got to be involved with the setup work with the gauges, the instrumentation to run the tests, and I got to see how it all comes together. And it's been fun to have that independence in the project to contribute ideas back and forth with my professor and the graduate student.
The main challenge actually has been working with the equipment and learning how to work with using gauges which look at pressure, velocity, wave height…There are a lot of issues which I just never would have even imagined coming up coming up, issues with this instrumentation not working--all sorts of things which I didn’t anticipate. Previously I’d been involved more on the analysis side, so for me it's been nice to actually get more of a hands on-experience. That's been fun. And the powerful thing about doing simulations is that you can do tons of different physical models or experiments to validate the simulations we're doing to see if they actually match up with reality.
How did your second research experience in Mechanical Engineering come about?
Dr Kirane was my professor in in sophomore year in a class on the mechanics of solids. I really enjoyed the class. I went to his office hours and really enjoyed discussing course-related material. And when I learned more about his lab which studies the physical properties of materials, I reached out to him just out of curiosity and asked about working in his group. Initially I got assigned a project which was experimental; now I'm doing more simulation work. What we're specifically trying to do is figure out what the strength distribution is for silica. And the goal of that is to see if how well molecular dynamics can be used to study the physical materials and physical behavior.
Again, there was a very steep learning curve for me when I started since I didn't come in really knowing anything about molecular dynamics. There are a lot of steps, it's computationally intensive, and learning about how to interpret the results and then figure out how to improve upon it in our simulations has been very interesting to work on as well.
You mentioned earlier that you participated in a summer REU program. Were you able to do that in-person?
Yes, that was summer 2019, so I was able to go to Oregon for a summer which was great. That REU was a big collaborative project: the goal was to come up with some predictive model for what kind of loads these coastal houses would be facing when they're when they're impacted with waves, and how would that relate to the actual damage … it was all analysis. And overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. It was great just seeing what research looks like when actually done on a larger scale, seeing the collaboration between different groups. It was good to have that experience, which contrasts with the atmosphere of my research groups here which are smaller communities.
How has being involved in research complemented what you learn in class?
In some cases, there’s an obvious connection. Right now, I'm taking coastal engineering as a course, and I'm clearly able see the connection between the course and the research that I’ve done. It’s not so much that I had formally studied this in the same way that I’m studying it now, but what we’re learning is familiar. As we go through, I think “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that, or I've run tests and I've seen that appear,…” I have a sense that what I’m learning rings true to me based on what my research experiences have been, and so it's really nice actually, not taking someone's word for it, but to actually be able to have seen and understand that this is what happens .. . I don't think there's as clear connection directly with most coursework though. But doing that initial project in freshman year certainly helped teach me MATLAB quite well and that's become useful in general.
I’d say though, that the main thing that comes from research is just being able to problem solve, being able to sit down and struggle with a problem for a for a long time. That’s what is pushed to the limit through research. When you’re working on a project , there are tons of things that go wrong and you're working over the course of several months to figure out how to deal with these problems. Smooth sailing in research is not really the norm!
Do you get used to things going wrong?
You never really fully do. It's always a challenge when doing research. But you somehow learn just by persevering through it. You can be working for a long time on one thing, and it feels like you're going nowhere. Problems you didn't imagine come up. You could be stuck on one thing, and it might take you ten times as long to figure it out as you would have thought in the beginning. But somehow, when you’re working on these projects, you kind of get used to that.
What do you enjoy most about doing research?
The main thing I enjoy is actually just thinking about the projects — what things could potentially be done, what I could potentially do, random ideas that pop into your head about what might work, and what experiments you want to try. It is exciting to think about that — the sort of out-of-the-box creativity that’s going on in the back of your mind about what you might potentially do.
What are your long-term goals ?
I'm in the accelerated master’s program. After that, I want to work in industry for a while, before pursuing another degree. Perhaps doing consulting in coastal engineering,
What advice would you give to other students about research?
It’s not for everyone, and you have to decide if it's something you're interested in. But If you want to delve into things more deeply, or go beyond what sort of equations you learn in class … it can be really rewarding. You can look at the department websites, see what the faculty are doing research on, and just see if there's anything there which catches your eye and you are curious about and would want to learn more about. If you have a professor in a class that you think is engaging or inspiring or you enjoy talking to during office hours, then that professor might be a really great choice to do research with. It just comes down to asking around. I don't actually think it's that hard to get involved.
Once you do get involved, my advice is to remind yourself that at the end of the day, what you're doing is: you're exploring, you're trying to learn about stuff you don’t know. Remind yourself that this is largely a learning experience. So don't be too stressed out when things don’t go according to plan. That's kind of the fun of it.
I'll spend a few months, working on something and then later on, l realize that in retrospect, I could probably done that in a couple weeks or condensed the project in some way. And the initial reaction is to be upset by that, and think, “Wow, I spent way too much time working on this!” But when I recognize that it wouldn’t necessarily take the same time to do it now, what It means is that I've improved, that something has happened such that I can understand it better now. So looking back, viewing those mess ups and dead ends as useful learning experiences is something that will help you enjoy the experience a lot more. You also get more confidence as you get more experience—so remember to enjoy it, have fun.